As the November election draws near, I am reminded of the caution: “Don’t talk about politics…” unless you want to cause trouble. But I would suggest, as did Ralph Nader, speaking at the Commonwealth Club*, July 3rd of this year, that politics is the way we govern ourselves, and we need to talk about politics if we are going to improve the way we govern ourselves. I think, as do many others of all persuasions, that we have lost the power to govern ourselves, and that power has been left in the hands of the few. But, if we are going to talk about politics to others who may not totally agree with us, there are several things that are important in order to keep the discussion positive:
- We need to see where we agree and build on that. Then we can join together to raise awareness, take action, vote. (One organized movement, “No Labels”** can be found on the internet.) There may not be a meeting of the minds in any given discussion. But, because there are many sides to any one issue, listening to each other is often the best way to come to a better consensus or compromise.
- People want to see changes but they don’t know how to get it done (Nader, 7/14). For example, the gap has grown hugely between the rich and others–leading to many questioning the American Dream. Citizens are sometimes ahead of our governing bodies in how they approach topics. Public sentiment is necessary, and then it is necessary to educate those who govern. Who will do that? How about grandma? grandpa? And what an example and legacy for our children and grandchildren. The Roosevelts (PBS Special by Ken Burns, September, 2014***) are a good example of integrity in public service. They were struggling against similar things that we as citizens are today. Quoting Doris Kearns Goodwin: “We were worried about the same thing at the turn of the century as we are now. I don’t think the answer is necessarily to go against the rich. America’s promise used to be, if you worked hard, you could move up the ladder. That’s less true today than it was before That’s what people should be fighting about” (AARP Conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin, June 2014).
- We need to educate ourselves. I happen to love knowing what is happening beyond the 1- or 2-minute “news” flashes that TV news presents, to keep us entertained. One source (which the “right” may think is too left, and the “left” may thing is too “right”) that I respect is NPR radio, where topics are discussed more thoroughly, where discussions are among people who are informed but may disagree with each other, bringing out ideas they think are important. I’ve heard information that sheds light on what is happening beyond the headlines.
- Too many people take the easy way out–something is all bad or all good. It takes effort to get beyond this approach and find out what the issues are (Just last week, someone said to me, “We have to get rid of Obama. He’s the cause of all our problems.” I asked him how getting rid of Obama would change things. He said, “He’s raised the national debt.” I had just seen detailed charts of the national debt from the George W. Bush years, and it is lower now–so I said so. He said, yes, he gave up on the Republicans, too. It was an odd encounter, but no one came away bruised. Maybe it was a waste of time–maybe not.)
- Don’t be shy to urge people to get involved and vote. This is all of our country, and everyone should have a voice.