A Long Way to Reform

Article excerpt

If anyone wants to be angry about the state of the nation right now, people on either end of the political spectrum and particularly those in the middle can find plenty to set them off. And sometimes anger can be a positive force in the body politic.

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Directed anger helped the nation win its independence, defeat totalitarianism in both World Wars and bring civil rights to all its citizens. Of course, anger also set off the Civil War and 100 years later ignited a culture war that still separates many of our neighbors.

Today, the loudest examples come from those who oppose President Barack Obama's agenda, particularly his proposed healthcare overhaul. We have seen disruptions and just plain rudeness at Congressional townhall meetings. The closest analogy may be some of the anti-war protests of the 1960s that polarized the nation.

People's doubts about the effectiveness of government began with Vietnam and have been building ever since. Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War moved those doubts into an indictment. Government is on trial.

Obama's victory showed that a majority no longer believe, as Ronald Reagan put it, that government is the problem. However, they aren't sure what government's role should be. They must look to the people they have elected, and they want government to facilitate problem-solving. Yet it is those who are the most intimately involved with government and politics who seem the least capable of understanding the need to achieve consensus. From the bottom up, we have a system built on patronage, promotion, seniority, partisan rewards and gerrymandering that removes any possibility of real competition in many legislative districts--including honest debate.

This is nothing new, but at least we have had periods of reform that limited the most egregious aspects of the system. I don't see much move toward reform today. Instead, politicians seem unable to behave otherwise in the world we now live in. Twenty-four-hour cable news, talk radio and ideological blogs thrive on vitriol and sensationalism. …