If one phrase could be used to summarize 2011 for Americans, it would be “political gridlock.” Between the squeezing out of moderates in last year’s low-turnout midterms, and the approaching presidential elections of 2012, the appetite to govern through compromise has just about disappeared. While average Americans continue to suffer the effects of a terrible and lingering recession, our representatives cocoon themselves in the echo chamber in the nation’s capital, submitting their consciences and outsourcing their intelligence to Beltway operatives more interested in personal fame and fortune than in the well-being of their fellowmen.
It is not surprising that the inchoate rage felt by those left behind in the pursuit of the American dream has manifested itself in protests around the country. If the protestors lack a coherent message, it is because the reversal of the death by a thousand cuts that the working class has been subjected to for decades is hard to encapsulate in a pithy slogan or an organized manifesto.
For those of us suffering in private, the actions of the Occupy movement may seem confusing and pointless, even as their emotions and demands resonate with us. The issues of rising income inequality and loss of upward mobility are real enough; it is just that in a democracy there is no single entity to blame, no dictator to overthrow. If we were to be brutally honest, the victims of this decades-long assault on the have-nots need only look in the mirror to find the perpetrators. Whether it is by picking candidates through purity tests, or by choosing to stay home in protest rather than cast an imperfect vote, we have ceded control of the political process to corporate funding and ideological extremists.
The New Year will usher in a deluge of political advertising, most of it ugly and untruthful. And there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a monumental challenge to sift through the barrage of election year (mis)information to arrive at suitable representatives who can reverse the political impasse. The guiding principle must be to look for candidates who have an interest in and a record of governance, not those who believe government is bad and dismantling it is the way to go. “Compromise” and “incremental change” must become acceptable words again, and politicians’ records of legislative action need to trump flowery promises for the future.
Ultimately the onus of bringing about change rests on our ability to send a message in the way it matters most—though the ballot box. So let’s make a resolution to educate ourselves, get informed, and go forth and vote!