There was a decisive moment during negotiations that ultimately led to the formation of the new SCV Water. That moment was when we all realized we wanted the same thing. Change happened when adversaries turned to allies.
It’s high time we bring that philosophy to policy making in general. Note I said “policy making” because many have forgotten that is what politicians are supposed to do. Right now we are mired in political battles of “our side” vs. “their side” and no one is happy. At minimum, it’s ridiculously ineffective at getting anything done. At worst, if allowed to persist, it could destabilize us and harm us.
What are the symptoms? Locally we’ve had officers quitting political clubs; people joining political clubs solely to reform them; endorsement votes being reversed or done on the sly, and active political party people re-registering as decline to state. Toss in ample smear campaigns on social media, with activists from both parties, engaging in circular firing squads, taking out their own “team” in political purity tests. Simply “rinse and repeat” at the state and national level. Unsurprisingly our voting turnout pales in comparison to other developed countries.
Time Magazine featured pieces within weeks of each other saying “Democrats are in their worst shape since 1929” and “Roy Moore signals the end of the Republican Party.” People mutter under their breath that they have trouble being pro-business or pro-choice and feeling comfortable in their own political parties. Otherwise intelligent people quip “Do all Democrats want to pay more taxes?” and “Republicans only care about babies before they are born.” Repeated, over time, these things become “common knowledge” rather than fake news.
A friend scarily announced that it would be “just easier” if political parties picked people to fill vacated elected offices rather than voters.
Decline to state voters are the fastest rising voter registration in California, according to the Public Policy Institute. From 1992 to 2016, Democratic registration dropped from 49% to 45% of registered voters. Republicans dropped from 37% to 27%, and Decline To State increased from 10% to 23% of all voters. Nationwide, according to the Pew Research Center, more millennials and GenXers (up to age 51) self identify as independent rather than tied to either major political party.
Most of us, probably, are some degree of Raging Moderate. That was a tagline of Pittsburg Post-Gazette columnist Reg Henry. I haven’t talked to a single person who is happy with today’s political extremism. Another writer, Thomas Friedman, warns in his bestseller “Thank You for Being Late” about the dangers of instability. Whether internationally or in our country, our state, and our communities, minding our own business and ignoring chaos are actually mutually exclusive. Our lives are made better by a sense of progress, of common good. Our lives are made much worse by living in reactive mode, fighting every little battle from Facebook, to Starbucks slights, to venting about what the evil “other” did to “us” today.
In one of the Batman movies, Alfred warns Bruce Wayne that there is no reasoning with certain adversaries, because “some men just want to see the world burn.” That is what political extremists are doing to us. We have the power and the smarts to stop it. If only we can find the will.
We need to look for the win. A win won’t come from fiery partisanship and special interest scorecards. The win will come when we all sit down and acknowledge common goals and work on that without uttering the words “democrats” “republicans” or “politics.” Rewarding jobs. Reduced healthcare costs. Good schools. Reliable infrastructure. A world where we don’t have to know if a nuclear missle can reach the US or not. A tax system where you don’t have people at both ends of the spectrum paying zero and some in the middle paying 45%. A retirement you can count on. Food, medicine, air and water you know are healthy. Imagine if we focused on electing people to improve and implement good policy, rather than “win” for “our side.” Can we turn away from fake news, finger pointing, foreign ads and fighting? Might we instead demand dialog, lasting solutions, and incremental progress? Could we cast truly informed votes, every time, in every race? Other than those who just want to watch the world burn, we probably could. Now is a good time to start.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.