MEMO From Michael: How Are We Going to Get Out of This Mess?

I am finding myself out of patience. I have listened to mostly sincere (to the point of self-righteous) politicians and partisan pundits excoriate the people they disagree with. They evade uncomfortable questions and explain why they are taking positions that may be based on principle but have become little more than tactical maneuvering. The focus is on who should get the blame rather than on how to fix the problem.

I watch and listen with hard-to-suppress disgust and hard-to-avoid frustration and fear that I am witnessing the devolution of democracy. I truly worry that the men and women who govern our country are creating new norms that will permanently damage what was once the indisputably greatest democracy in the world.

I see apparently smart and successful people doing and saying things without a thought for next steps. One group has no qualms about taking the country to the brink of all sorts of nasty and serious consequences with no exit strategy. The other side, believing there is tactical advantage in unyielding resistance, is unwilling to provide a face-saving way out.

The deteriorating political situation would be farcical if the consequences were not so serious. A major part of the problem is the ignorance, indifference or tolerance of Americans who are not genuinely worried by both the current situation and its aftermath.

The interesting thing is that at the root of this debacle are genuine principle-based disagreements about policy, about what is good, right and sensible. And though this particular disagreement centers on healthcare legislation, it is not essentially different from dozens of other controversies we must deal with: immigration, taxation, environmental issues, abortion, gun control. How this particular battle ends will have enormous precedential impact on how we handle other disagreements.

So, irrespective of my views on the healthcare legislation, I think it is a great mistake to endorse political strategies that hold our entire economy hostage to a single issue. Though this position seems to favor the Democrats in this instance, I would take the exact position if it were a group of blue-vested politicians with donkey pins who were using the same strategy. I think responsible people on both sides of the aisle recognize the folly, but they have maneuvered themselves into positions where there is no room for real compromise.

And while I believe all the main players truly believe in the rightness of their cause, the blatant adoption by both sides of ends-justify-the-means tactics discredits themselves and the process. It seems that every move and countermove is drenched in patently false rationalizations. We don’t need more politicians, we need statesmen who understand that treating the other side with respect is an essential platform for finding honorable compromises.

Each side protests: They won’t negotiate! And, of course, each is right because the secret negotiation is about what issues are to be negotiated. Each side uses the term negotiation as a club rather than a strategy to seek peace.

Like a marriage with no future, there are truly irreconcilable differences that separate each army. But unlike a marriage, no solution akin to divorce is possible. We have to find a way to live together and resolve differences. We used to be able to do that.

The cynical, insincere posturing by both sides is dishonoring and damaging our heritage and I can’t muster the optimism to think of a scenario where it will all come out all right.

For more of my thoughts on this please see http://whatwillmatter.com/2013/10/failure-of-leadership-847-3/

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Comments 38

    1. Michael, your realistic, logical, and non-partisan words really pinpoint what is going on. After reading the numerous replies to your memo–more continuous blaming and accusations of the other–I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that a way to live together and resolve differences is not possible as long as this continues.

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  1. Here’s a scenario in which it will come out alright. We, the American people, get tired enough of the political bs (sorry; no other word describes it as well) and vote them ALL out of office. Then we take a good hard look at the two-party system and replace it. It’s not about ideologies any more; it’s really just about power. I’ve switched back and forth between parties for years because I am conservative financially yet liberal regarding societal issues. I don’t believe in spending more than we have and then the question becomes, what things are most important for me. In my personal life, if I want to take a cruise, then I eat at home for a few months to save money for it instead of using the credit card. This is how I want my government to operate. So no one represents me.

    I have to say I really hate what is happening in Congress right now. Although I believe we need to have some type of health care for all, I don’t particularly like Obamacare. But it’s what we’ve got and I am disgusted at the politicians who prefer to bring down the government rather than do their job – which is to RUN the government. Pass the budget, and if you don’t like national healthcare, then work to repeal it. This is completely irresponsible.

    I agree with everything you said except that I do think we have the solution. The question is do the American people have the will to execute it or have we become too complacent?

      1. It is indeed time for the rational thinkers to come out and vote. The problem is too many do not participate in the elections. That allows entrenched interests to take control. The silent majority needs to wake up in time, or see the destruction of all the good this nation has done come to naught. Where are the marches protesting against government shutdown? Why are we so quietly accepting of a radical faction taking control of the democratic governing process. Our politicians maybe scared of the tea party, but if we all are then we are doomed!

    1. Let me take it a step further. Do you really want to eliminate our current two-party system? The first step is for all Democrats and Republicans to officially change their voter status to Independent. I have been an Independent my entire voting life. If all Americans would do this, watch how the number of third party candidates grows. Watch how quickly our two parties panic, IF they are paying attention at all to America.

      Simply voting them out of office won’t work. It hasn’t worked before.

  2. Michael,
    I also wonder how we will get out of this mess, because our government truly has become a organization of power that cares nothing about serving, or in some form trying to genuinely help the people they are suppose to serve; instead government (which in fact is a minority of people) are trying to impose their own agenda on the whole which sadly to say is a reflection of our society the tyranny of the minority is tearing apart this country; I too would love to see “we the people” stand up and say “enough” and start completely over but sadly we can’t agree to disagree ourselves when it comes to differing views and opinions, everyone wants to be right and sadly we are not………..

  3. One side is on a mission, an ongoing mission to destroy the president. They haven’t done a single thing to help this country out of the economic crisis we have been in for 8 years or so. No jobs, no repairing infrastructure. And anything the president offers to help the people of our country it’s NO! They have done nothing but obstruct. Concession after concession has been made to the republicans but nothing will sway them from their obsession to see this president fail. If they give in to them now they will be really hurting the poor and aged in our country. They want us all to be poor, like a third world country. How can you not see that? The two sides are not the same. Please!

  4. I am a Democrat and suppor the President, the Affordable Care Act, and the Senate Democrats position. That being said, I agree with you and disagree with you. I disagree when you state that both sides share the blame. This problem is a result of the Speaker of the House being unable to do what he knows is right. He can end this issue by calling a simple vote on a Clean Continuing Resolution. He is the only person who can do that. I agree with you when you note that taking a hostage is no way to operate a democratic republic. However the hostage was taken by John Boehner. He must release his hostage then the negotiations can resume. If Speaker Boehner was interested in bargaining he would have named a conference committee six months ago instead of one hour before midnight. It is difficult to negotiate with the Republicans when they do not operate in good faith. I consider their hostage taking a sign of bad faith. I consider their failure to name a conference committee on the budget a sign of bad faith. I consider their failure to allow a vote on a clean CR bill a sign of good faith. Like you I fear the precedents set by this behavior. However, I can see where the bad faith behavior is coming from. It is not equal, one party is leading in bad faith actions.

    1. Good faith has never been in the Republicans vocabulary. Remember, they took us to Iraq using lies! They told us that mission was accomplished in Iraq and we still have not sorted out the mess. Sorry, but 7/11 and GITMO happened during their watch and is their legacy!
      Ashcroft, Chaney, Colin Power, Bush have left their clones behind and we see their ugly deeds in action on this shut down of our government.

  5. “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”–Albert Einstein

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi

    Until and unless folks resist being held hostage by their emotional brains – i.e., fear of loss of control, recognition and security – ego -we won’t move forward.

    To be that change requires a higher level of consciousness…not so-called logical, rational answers and solutions driven by fear. Folks whose orientation to the world, seeing it from a perspective of 25 miles out, driven by a psycho-spiritual perspective are the answer. Right now, chance are slim to none.

    Necessary suffering is part of the human condition and we’re mired in that state currently. The pendulum will spring back to normalcy, equanimity but not until we, as a country complete our journey through the belly of the beast.

    Then we’ll be supported by folks who are not at the level of thinking as those who created what we’re experiencing.

  6. I think a lot of Americans care, but we are powerless! My senators and representative in congress are doing what I support. But I cannot convince others to not sacrifice our country, the country of all Americans, to their agendas which do indeed seem to include paralyzing the Obama presidency. he was elected by us all.

    I do wish his language now was: please come to the table with improvements if you don’t like obamacare, but I don’t think it would matter. we are hostage to a congress that doesn’t mind winning their petty fights at the cost of destroying the country. many are elected by voters who think all govt is bad….who don’t realize our taxes pay for clean water, roads, schools, all sorts of things, and want to break the social contract entirely.

  7. I am in agreement with your root concern, Michael, i.e., ” A major part of the problem is the ignorance, indifference or tolerance of Americans who are not genuinely worried by both the current situation and its aftermath.” As a retiree, who is first-born American, I am VERY worried, myself, about the attitudinal drift by us citizens away from a sense of personal accountability for our own actions and selves–we CAN make choices to behave and think responsibly, even though we may differ in our opinions. Like, Andrea, on a continuum, I am socially liberal–not radical–and financially conservative–not reactionary. However, as a reminder to Philip: When the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, they unilaterally designed Obamacare and completely excluded all Republicans from deliberations. When I was doing organizational development work at a large corporation, I ALWAYS gave Rule No. 1 as “include all the stakeholders”! You might not agree with the oppostion, but you have at least heard their concerns and critiques and, just maybe, might have learned about pitfalls in your own plans. Also, at least they may feel listened to, even though they might not agree with the final outcome. Unfortunately, the “can’t we all just get along” timing seems to be past. It’s always far easier to react emotionally than to try to think critically, so the blaming continues, even in our comments. Let’s hope for a few sane heads to be heard–and, for us, an ability to recognize them!

    1. Republicans had many, many opportunities to have their say in the First Obama term! The GOP screwed up in the first term and now in the second term they are call healthcare reform ‘foul’ Sorry, busters your behavior in the first term, when the President was willing to compromise, you guys blew it. Now you have no room to maneuver, so you hold the President and this country hostage.
      Sorry, Sue, with respect I cannot agree with your opinion a 100%. You make good points, but seem naieve.

  8. The current situation is indeed tragic. Instead of a win-win situation we have a lose-lose one. I am sure that the health care law is not perfect, but Congress has had plenty of time to improve it. Instead, we have people who want to abolish it but who won’t work together to make this a success. I do not like to believe that some Americans would rather see people die than have their taxes go up or grant health care to all, but I am coming to that conclusion, since we do not have great suggestions on how to make this better. Worse yet, we have people who want to shut down the government over one law. That is a very unfortunate precedent. We all have laws we don’t like, but this one came to a vote and passed. There are ways to improve matters without ruining the country.

    1. Someone told me that all the “umbrella” pushed into the health care bill, some of which have nothing to do with health care, are also causing issues. Pink slime vs. reality. Yes, the law was passed; congress needs to honor the voice of the people, but really…two weeks ago they are criticizing Syria and other nations, and they cannot keep themselves in check or feed their own people?

  9. I just saw and heard Newt on Crossfire and he said this is so normal , this government shut down, and this is not as tragic as we are making it, it has happen so many time before. He said we are overreacting. What about the poor people not getting paid , and all the people yes us , not him, he is so out of touch with the real USA, the people, by the people for the people. He and all the others like him to be kicked out on his bottom, and Now!He said this is normal and that lies the problem. This is not democracy.

  10. The Democratic Party won the election on the health care issue. GOP should respect the shareholders or the voters and toe the line on this issue. Ask Senator McCain, he knows.

    The two parties have become big businesses and have forgotten what public service is.

    Compassion should be number one on their list of consideration when discussing issue that affect the public. It should never be about scoreing political points

  11. I totally agree with the writer on this and as a registered Republican am going to change my party to something other than Rep. I don’t think it matters which one but I am ashamed to be a republican any more. To me my status is also about the women’s rights that many of the Republicans don’t want to see a woman with the right to choose. I can not believe in 2013 we still have people who will not let women choose. Absurd.

  12. I’m watching all this from the perspective of the UK, where we have had affordable healthcare for 65 years, like the vast majority of civilised countries.

    As far as I’m aware, the Affordable Health Care Act, limited as it is, was passed by Congress and ratified, and approved by the Supreme Court. It’s the law of the land, agreed by its elected representatives. It is thus surely unethical for one party to seek to overrule that agreement just because they lost in the democratic process.

    Risking economic disaster in order to try and overturn the decision of the elected government is hardly a responsible or ethical course of action. This is not about negotiation, and it’s not about economics. It’s about ideology and allowing the implementation of what has already been agreed. A small group should not seek to overturn the will of the people by holding an economic gun to their heads – that’s one step away from a coup d’etat.

  13. “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

    ― George Washington

  14. I support President Obama and the Healthcare legislation, even though it will be frustrating or downright painful for some (perhaps many) in the near term. The legislation is a major piece of what a majority of Americans elected Mr. Obama to facilitate. He “delivered,” within months. Leading the United States on the path to ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps chief among the 2008 campaign issues, followed before the end of Mr. Obama’s first term. Closing Guantanamo proved to be practically and politically impossible. The almost completely unacceptable status quo there is “better” than any alternative yet conceived, a cruel reality for Mr. Obama, all directly involved at Guantanamo, and for all Americans who expect the United States to lead the world in compassion and fairness. Despite failure in the latter case, Mr. Obama was justifiably re-elected because of his successful leadership in the other key areas, including public Healthcare. The Affordable Care Act provisions have now gone into effect, just as they should have. That being said, I call upon the President to work with Speaker Boehner to identify a single provision of the Act which can reasonable be “sacrificed,” allowing the Speaker, moderate Republicans, and extreme Republicans to save face and pass a Continuing Resolution which is “clean” except for the sacrificed provision. The appropriate joint House-Senate conference committee would agree, in turn, to hold public hearings specifically on that provision, with the goal in mind of determining an alternative replacement provision. This replacement would then be voted upon separately, “up or down,” and, in so doing, either make the Act “whole again” or identify an area that obviously needs more collaborative work.

  15. I believe we are a Republic, not a Democracy, as in “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the Republic of the United ….”

    The Declaration of Independence grants us the right to remove from office those who abuse their positions and those who fail to do what is in the people’s best interest. Politicians today care about themselves (hence they are exempt from the health care reform) and their lobbyist supporters. The power of our voices, through voting, protesting, or demanding resignations, must be resoundingly clear from sea to sea, border to border. PLEASE.

  16. I heard a statistic the other day that stated the politicians who have created the stalemate represent 18% of our nations voting constituents. It saddens me to hear that an entitiy that was built on the will of the majority has lost it’s way with regards to listening to those that matter most, the people. While I can’t say I agree with everything Obama has worked hard to implement, the name calling, sensational accusations, and total lack of respect for our President, by the those who oppose his policies, has seem to bring us back to the dark ages. No one will say it publically, but I believe strongly that there is a bias that runs deeper than party affiliation regarding this and other matters regarding our nations political strife, and sadly it is a simple case of bigotry.

  17. I think most of you missed the point of the commentary. Most of you are blaming someone mainly the Repulicans. Mr. Kanji went so far as to say that everything wrong in this country since 2001 is the Republicans fault. I am not blaming anyone. The point of the commentary is to solve the problem not blame people. What this country needs is sincere leadership which I firmly believe we are lacking. Someone in a leadership position should stand up and say “enough is enough” and get to work. Everyone should consider leadership in the voting process instead of political affiliation. If we had a true leader, we would not be in this mess. I do not belong to any political party. I vote for the person who I think would do the best job and has demonstrated his leadership skills. I did not vote for the current president and it is not because I am a bigot as suggested by CS in the west. I would like to make two comments and then I will sign off. First, if a private company handles business this poorly, they fire the CEO. If a sports team is doing this badly, they fire the head coach. Think about it.

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  18. I’m wondering where Andrea lives and if she’s thought about running for office. I, too, am fiscally conservative and liberal over societal issues and haven’t been represented for years. This government shutdown is the last straw. We have got to have better alternatives than incumbents or the weak candidates put up against them. I have a kid who dodged buried bombs and flying bullets in Afghanistan who’s not going to get his earned VA education benefits for his final semester of school. I work at a school where our military students may not only lose their VA benefits, other work-study students may not get paid. Statistics show that if students have to drop out of school, it is harder for them to go back, so this Congressional bickering can change not only students’ current financial situation, but perhaps their futures and the futures of their families. Very selfish. Pass the budget. Raise the debt limit. Find a way to work as teams and negotiate or resign and let someone who knows those skills take your job.

  19. Michael

    Your Memo should be sent to every member of Congress and printed in every newspaper in the country. It is easy to gamble when you gambling with other people’s [money]. You are right on regarding the precedential effect this will have on our entire system. If a faction is so convinced that a law, any law, is objectionable to the masses, isn’t the remedy to introduce a bill that repeals that law? This process reminds me of a children who don’t get their own way. Instead of submitting to the rules of the [house] [school] they throw a tantrum. The difference is with incorrigible children there is the detention home. With Congress we have to wait until the next election to see if they are sent home.

    This is a sad period of time in the history of our country. Perhaps you could offer your services to mediate the dispute.

  20. Thank goodness I am not alone! We need to get active and make this happen. We need another party with reasonable, practical ideals and term limits so no one is entrenched. Even the best people should not stay forever. Everyone should have to go back home and live by the laws they have made.

  21. I am disappointed though not at all surprised at what has become of our government. I’m particularly disappointed in this age of instant information, we are subject to instant MISinformation and DISinformation. At the heart of the issue of the ACA disagreement is the Individual Mandate, the very mandate The Heritage Foundation bullied Mitt Romney into implementing for Massachusetts. When the idea of afforable healthcare went national, Republicans vociferously refused to sign the bill without an Individual Mandate attached. Almost the next day after they signed WITH the Individual Mandate, they began squawking about how “unconstitutional” the Individual Mandate is. But where are the news stories now about the Republican holdout for the Individual Mandate. Good luck finding that and a first edition of “Dianetics.” Both have been suppressed. But I should not look a gift horse in the mouth. My company is complying with the Individual Mandate and offering health insurance to individual shoppers who are joyous because for the first time in years–ever in some cases–they CAN purchase health insurance. Thanks to The Heritage Foundation and Mitt Romney, I have my job and all my loved ones can get insurance. Too bad I refuse to vote for ’em. And now they hold my people hostage. Unconscionable for those of us who are in possession of a soul.

  22. It’s funny that Congress has such a low approval rating, while the individual representatives are approved of by the people that voted for them. Is it because most as individuals are pretty good folks, but that the bad reputation of the group comes from this small , nasty minority?
    This problem was caused by Gerrymandering congressional voting districts, allowed by the Republicans that have successfully dominated state governments. Gerrymandering must end. The Republicans have the majority in the House, but they did not get there with the majority of votes. They got there by electoral manipulation.
    The other huge problem is money being used to manipulate politics in the form of lobbying as well as the financial support that created the Tea Party. Now they are finding that they cannot control them. Many years ago, some monied and corporate interests funded a fringe group that they wanted as a battering ram against dominant progressive forces in the government. They found out that they could not control the fringe group that they had helped create. (I am not referring to the Taliban.) That fringe group will always be known to history as the Nazi Party.

  23. When the silent majority is silent, radicals take over the government. The politicians are scared of the tea party radicals, but where is the rest of the public? Why a there no marches on the street to protest lack of a functional government?
    Get out and vote, get out and show that you care.

  24. One thing is that part of the argument is over a budget and spending. The aha is something some republicans believe they were voted in to repeal, so they will attack it to no end.

    My thought is to add an option to the ballet for “none of the above”. I would have used this a lot since I turned 18.

    The blame will be passed around like a hot potato. If you asked me it is not only the government of today’s fault, but previous ones.

    The true failure is the absense of laws which encourage people to succeed and the lack of example the government provides.

    I know that I would not be able to survive with debt building up 2 to 3 times my annual income. There would not be a creditor out there that would continue to loan to me. A business could not operate in this manner either.

    In order to change this we must sacrifice. Whether it is a government slimdown or spending cuts. You worry about the government failing while it seems to me the government is succeeding in the checks and balances department. This is why the system was setup, it is called freedom. While it is embarressing and threatening to our welfare, it is our system.

    Oh, and by the way, you shouldnt trust either party.

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