Politicians Are People Too: Why we should welcome the #bipartisanroadtrip

Other than the BBC Dad story (which makes me laugh to the point of tears pretty much every time I watch it), my favorite story of the week is of the #bipartisanroadtrip – a two-day drive undertaken by Texas Congressmen Will Hurd (a Republican) and Beto O’Rourke (a Democrat). The two men, who don’t seem to have had much of a relationship before the trip, decided to team up to get to Washington in time for some votes after their flights were canceled due to our winter storm.

During the trip, the congressmen talked policy, fielded some calls, uploaded videos to Facebook (of course) – and generally just got to know one another. And… whaddya know? It turns out that they kind of like each other. These two politicians from opposite sides of the aisle found some common ground; they built up some good will.

Moreover, because Hurd and O’Rourke broadcast their trip on social media, they were able to bring other Americans along with them on their journey. Not just their literal journey, their tens of hours together in a car – their journey toward a friendly, productive working relationship.

Man, do we need these kinds of stories right now, or what?

I’m a dreamer and an idealist, so it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in this sort of thing. Indeed, during the election I nursed this fantasy of a Congressional exchange program, wherein Congressmen from opposing parties would be paired with colleagues whose districts are dramatically different from their own. I love the idea of an urban Congressman sitting down to a backyard barbecue on some ranch in Montana, a western Congressman attending a church service in inner-city Baltimore, a wealthy suburbanite Congressman visiting a VFW in the rust belt, etc. (Let’s call this idea #347 for me to fund and promote when I win the lottery.)

But I can be practical too, and I know that with the way politics works these days, any politician who tries to reach out to the other side risks being swatted down by his own. These are divided, partisan times. And politicians can be victims of that paradigm just as they are perpetrators of it.

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

The Space Between - Politicians Are People Too

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Let’s Not Tell Ourselves That None Of This Matters

Last week I saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the effect of: The day after the election, your kids will still be your kids, your home will still be your home, the sun will still shine, and butterflies will still flit about fancifully.

Or something like that. I don’t remember who posted it, so I can’t find it to validate the accuracy of my impression. In any case, the meme was telling us, “Don’t worry; none of this matters anyway.”

To which my inner lobbyist was shouting, “No! This does matter! Elections have consequences! Governments do real things! And you have more power over them than you realize!”

I understand where the meme’s creator and the multitudes who share it are coming from. This election has shaken people. Ideologies are in flux, loyalties are shifting, and opinions that were once shushed are now voiced aloud. Some find the situation thrilling. Many find it disturbing.

For the latter camp, it’s tempting to treat this campaign, and indeed politics overall, as a television show that can be turned off. It’s a topic to be weeded out of a newsfeed, a fad to be ignored, something as disconnected from our real lives as Justin Bieber and the Kardashians.

Except it’s not.

The Space Between -- Let's Not Tell Ourselves That None Of This Matters

The Better, Impractical Choice

I’m over at my (new) blog today, expressing some frustration about presidential politics and pledging to not be part of the problem. (That is, to not vote for either major candidate.) It’s a perky little piece, I’ll tell you that!

“If politicians are slippery, if they tell us only what we want to hear, if they refuse to offer real solutions, if they’re unwilling to work with those with whom they disagree – it’s because we have made them that way.

We reward negative campaigning. We punish compromise. We respond to sound bites. We expect ideological purity (i.e. You Must Think Exactly As I Do). We champion magic-wand political solutions. (How about I just say that I’ll “Make America Great Again” and wiggle my magic wand in the air, and it will be so! How about I make economic inequality just… disappear! How about I build a big wall at no cost and magically make it get rid of all the scary people? How about we pass a law that will – poof! – make people stop shooting each other?)

We have gotten ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We have done this. We have made presidential campaigns into something that decent people cannot win.”

The Space Between - The Better Impractical Choice

What This Catholic Wants in a President (And How the Candidates Measure Up) – Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of my (who-knows-how-many-parts) series:

These Walls - What This Catholic Wants in a President Part Two

Today’s post covers some of the qualities I want in a president and a few of the broad issues that impact many of the more specific, controversial ones. (And which, because they’re so broad, are perhaps the least well-connected to Church teaching on public policy matters. Be forewarned, Catholics: this one’s all me.)

For an introduction of the series and an explanation of how my Catholic faith has influenced my political outlook, please see Part One.

For discussions on some of those specific, controversial (and perhaps more interesting) issues, please come back tomorrow for Part Three.

But for today:

(I Consider Myself) Pragmatic on the Boring Basics

When I think about the qualities I want in a president, of course I want someone who’s intelligent, just, honest, deliberative, decisive, articulate, persuasive, and plain ol’ good.

That goes without saying, really.

But this year, given our current set of political realities, I’m also looking for a few more particular qualities in a presidential candidate:

  • I want one to whom bipartisanship is not a dirty word – one who refrains from demonizing those he disagrees with and who understands the political necessity of working with members of the other party.
  • I want one with substantial political experience.
  • I want one who is forward-thinking – one who is more interested in long-term, real solutions than temporary fixes.

Now let’s go down that list.

Bipartisanship. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest elephant in the room of national politics is the disdain with which the president and members of Congress regard members of the opposite party. Not to mention the disdain shown by Average Joes on the (physical and virtual) street!

I’m so weary of it.

I’m not the kind of impractical idealist who thinks that everyone ought to just start getting along, already – maybe join hands and sing a verse or two of Kumbaya. I know that there are real, important differences in our policy positions and political aims. I know that there was no golden age of bipartisan cooperation in Washington. And I know that some eras were much worse than our own. (Involving, for instance, actual, physical brawls on the floor of Congress.)

But I wish voters would stop rewarding politicians who make their names by bashing the other side into the ground. Such behavior is juvenile and unproductive and (worse yet) damaging to our democracy.

I also wish people would stop assuming the worst of each other. Few people are so selfish, so mean-spirited as to actively pursue an agenda that sets out to harm everybody else. No — people really, truly have different ideas as to what government should be doing and which policies help people the most. Let’s disagree. Let’s have good debates on which policies make the most sense. But let’s not assume that those who disagree with us mean to do ill.

In short, I want a president who acts like a grown-up in his relations with other politicians. I want one who refrains from demonizing those he disagrees with and who understands the political necessity of working with members of both parties.

Experience. I want a president who has actually had some practice in doing the above.

I want someone who’s shown that he can navigate the treacherous path of legislating and governing: someone who has had substantial experience in the political meat grinder, who’s shown that he can achieve legislative/policy successes, and preferably one who comes from a politically divided state. (Hello Ohio, Florida, and Michigan!) I worry that a candidate from a more lopsidedly-Republican or Democratic state will be ill-equipped to deal with a divided Washington.

I do not want a presidential candidate who is new to politics. It is hard to get legislation passed and to govern effectively, and I don’t think we should assume that any ol’ admirable person can pull it off.

Selfishly, perhaps, I especially don’t want a Republican candidate who’s a novice to politics – I think the last thing the Republican Party needs is a president who’s fresh meat to the opposition. (Sorry, Mr. Carson and Ms. Fiorina. Sorry-not-sorry, Mr. Trump.)

(By the way, I think inexperience was a large part of why President Obama had such a hard time in his first term: he was a one-term senator from an overwhelmingly liberal state. He simply wasn’t equipped to work effectively in Washington.)

I also have no interest in a guy (or gal) who proclaims his intention to go in and change Washington! Because that’s a load of nonsense – the president is going to land where he lands, and he can’t change the landscape. All he can do is try to find his way through it.

Long-term thinking. One of my biggest gripes about politicians lately – and really, the public who feeds them – is that they function in the short-term. Almost all the time.

Everything is about the next election cycle or the next budget extension or the projected amount of cash to be shelled out in the next five years. There’s (little to) no long-term planning.

But as any responsible adult will tell you regarding their private affairs (saving for the down payment, retirement, home repair, college) – it pays to think about the future.

Yet we don’t ask our politicians to think about it. We’re content to let our infrastructure crumble if it means we stick with a lower gas tax. We attempt military interventions with as little force and expense as possible, preferring to serve as a prop rather than a means to a solution. We agree to only the bare minimum of social supports, which trap people in poverty rather than enabling them to escape it.

I want a president who is more forward-thinking than that, one who is more interested in long-term, real solutions than temporary fixes.

Moving on, now, to two broad issues that impact pretty much all of the others we wrestle with in politics: size of government and taxes.

At the root of much of our political discord and division, I see a fundamental disagreement over how large government should be and what it’s even for. And I don’t think the division necessarily breaks down cleanly between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican side, at least, is far messier than politicians would have us believe.

So let’s ask that broad philosophical question, shall we? How big should our national government be and what sort of roles should it play? I think I probably reflect the diversity of the Republican Party in the sense that I like the idea of a small government, but I’m conflicted as to what that means, in practice.

I know people (like my wonderful husband) who are essentially libertarian on this count: they think government should provide for the national defense and the basic legal and (infra)structural framework on which we depend, but that’s pretty much it. To them, the national government should not involve itself in matters of education, social welfare, environment, etc. Maybe the states should, maybe they shouldn’t – it depends on the issue. (Think: Ron Paul.)

On the other end of the Republican spectrum you have the interventionist, America-as-the-greatest-power crowd. (I generalize, of course.) To them, our government is a powerful tool that should be used to secure American interests and ideals abroad – and maybe at home too. (Look at the second Bush administration for a good representation of this mindset. Think about the Middle East, but also think about No Child Left Behind and President Bush’s legacy in Africa.)

As for me, I suppose I tend to the second, and probably go further. I want our government to eliminate waste, to function efficiently, to be really smart about how it goes about its business, but I also want it to be committed to efforts abroad, provide a basic safety net for Americans in need, and help to secure better futures for American individuals, businesses, and communities.

So what do I want from a president in terms of size-of-government speak? I want a president who tends to smaller government and appreciates the need to use it very, very carefully, but who concedes that government, realistically, has a lot of work to do. I have no use for a candidate who’s in a competition to see how itsy-bitsy he (or she) can shrink the government.

Now. That question, obviously, has got to be followed with one on taxes.

And this is maybe the issue where I differ most from the average Republican. Because I think you ought to first figure out what you want government to do, then figure out what kind of tax revenues will support that work. And then government should, you know, actually take in enough in taxes to do what you want it to do.

(In practice, I think politicians should only be willing to support new programs that they would be willing to raise taxes for. I think programs and policies should live and die on their own merit — not as a trade-off on something else.)

Though I disagree with them, I’m not bothered by the libertarian sort who want to slash taxes along with the size and responsibilities of government. There’s logic and consistency there. But I’m really annoyed by more mainstream Republicans who seem to want government to do a fair number of things and yet insist that taxes should still be cut. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes – I get it. But we should be grown-up enough to acknowledge that bridges and roads and schools and Medicare and military endeavors cost money. You can’t have it both ways.

That goes for presidential candidates too. I don’t want a candidate who’s going to beat the “lower taxes” drum right now. I just don’t see that philosophy going anywhere at the moment. I might respect a candidate who beats that drum along with one on cutting out half the government, but I don’t agree with him (or her). As I said before, I think that government, realistically, has a lot of work to do. I want a candidate who will bite the bullet and acknowledge that that work has to be paid for somehow.

I toned it down somewhat (believe it or not), but personally, my primary theme these days regarding what I want in a president is essentially: grown-up, grown-up, grown-up. I want a president who’s more grown-up than the tit-for-tat, exclusionary, complaining, bashing batch of politicians we’ve suffered lately. I want to move on from that behavior – to move forward.

Most simply, I want a candidate who can win and a president who can function.

~~~

Just as I did yesterday, allow me to close by clarifying two points. (I may do so at the end of each of these posts.)

  • First, though I prioritize the Church’s teachings in my own political decision-making, and though I used to lobby for the Church, I do not claim to speak for it. For the Church’s official positions on national-level policy questions, please see the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some of the issues I discuss in this series will have a clear connection to those the USCCB advocates on. Others will not.
  • Second, though I may hold a degree in political science, I am no political scientist. I’m a stay-at-home mom who pays a greater-than-average attention to the news. Feel free to call me out on anything you think I’ve gotten wrong.

Thanks again for joining me. I hope to have you back here tomorrow for Part Three!

7 Quick Takes on Last Night’s Debate (Vol. 35)

Has it really been a full week since I’ve posted? Nah… can’t be. At least it doesn’t feel like it, because I’ve been doing so much writing. (Which has felt great!) I was trying to get something out in time for last night’s debates, but I just couldn’t pull it off. C’est la vie.

 

The silver lining to the situation is that I now have enough written to kick off a little series (Is this my first series? I think it might be) next week:

These Walls - 7QT on Last Night's Debates - 2

I’ll begin with a few posts on (you guessed it) what I want in a President and what my Catholic faith has to do with it. Then I’ll follow with several posts on (you guessed again) how I think the individual candidates measure up.

Should be fun!

Now, on to this week’s 7 Quick Takes regarding last night’s prime-time Republican presidential debate.

Seven Quick Takes Friday

—1—

First of all, this thing (the prime-time debate) was so much more fun than I expected it to be! I was kind of dreading watching the debate, approaching it as a sort of duty. I figured it would produce an annoying combination of boredom and discomfort, and I feared that most of the candidates would cower in the presence of The Donald. (Cringe.)

But no fear! Right out of the gate, the challenges started coming fast, with Fox panelists asking really tough questions of the candidates – especially of Trump. The first was perfect:

“Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person?”

Of course Mr. Trump raised his hand. Good to have that out there in the open – he won’t promise, in the event he loses the Republican primary, not to run an independent campaign during the general election. Lovely.

And it went on. I don’t think time was distributed quite fairly – a few candidates (namely, Ben Carson) seemed to get passed over for the more interesting-to-the-panelists candidates (including John Kasich, who barely made it into the group of ten, based on his poll numbers) — but I thought each candidate was asked fair, tough questions. There were some interesting exchanges and verbal tussles (namely, between Rand Paul and Chris Christie), and some great quotes and one-liners.

In sum, I’m no fan of Fox News, but I was generally impressed with how they conducted the debate.

But, I was really annoyed by that last question, on God, asked by a Facebook user:

“I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.”

I’m not opposed to the candidates being asked questions regarding their faith and how it plays into their policy priorities. (That’s kind of my thing here.) But the way it was phrased just seemed silly to me. And it probably seemed gleefully absurd to most Democrats.

—2—

More fun than the debate itself, perhaps, was following along with others via Facebook and Twitter. I was taking notes on my laptop to prepare myself for writing this post and at one point I typed: “Okay, having a hard time keeping up here now because Twitter and FB are way too much fun.” They were! I’m honestly looking forward to the next debate.

Here’s some of what I was tweeting and re-tweeting:

These Walls - 7QT on Last Night's Debate - 3

These Walls - 7QT on Last Night's Debate - 4

—3—

Now for my take on the winners (as I declare them to be):

Marco Rubio. He looked great — came across as really composed and comfortable – “presidential”, even. He was articulate and on-point and made valuable contributions to the debate. I couldn’t help but relish the idea of him going up against Hillary Clinton in a general election debate. I went in liking the guy and came away more impressed than I expected to be. He might just have what it takes.

John Kasich. I also went in liking him and he did not disappoint (except for maybe bringing up the fact that his father was a mailman a few too many times). He had good, well-put-together answers and came across as both compassionate and competent. We need a dose of both right now.

Ted Cruz. I am no fan of the guy. Honestly, between his Evangelical-preacher demeanor (sorry, Evangelicals), his willingness to advance himself at the expense of the Party, and his position on immigration, he bugs the heck out of me. But I think he did a good job last night. He was composed and articulate and probably persuasive, if you didn’t already think he was a big creeper. (I wouldn’t know, being a member of that camp myself.)

Mike Huckabee. Again, I’m not a big fan. There’s nothing (or not much) I substantively dislike about him, but I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in hell with the general electorate. So, you know – why bother? But he did well last night. He looked more comfortable than any of the others (save maybe Rubio) – really in his element. And his responses were smart, colorful, and likeable.

Rand Paul. Another one of whom I am decidedly not a fan. On him, though, it’s mostly a matter of substance – I’m just about as far removed from a libertarian as a Republican can come. The guy might be perfectly lovely – I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. To his fans, he probably came across very well. He spoke a fair amount, he got in several (seemingly well-rehearsed) one-liners, and he had a nice little tussle with Chris Christie. (All of which is why I’m putting him in the “winner” category.) But he still seems like such a niche candidate to me. I don’t think he translates any better to the masses now than he did before the debate.

Ben Carson. This one surprised me. Being from Maryland, I’ve known of him (as a famous pediatric neurosurgeon) for years, so I’m naturally fond of him. But he’s a complete political novice (more so even than Mr. Trump, who excels in the politics of business and television), and I really expected him to flounder. He did nothing of the sort. He didn’t get much air time, but he used his opportunities well, coming across as intelligent and comfortable; he even seemed like he was enjoying himself. I didn’t love all his answers, but I thought he both held his own and made a generally favorable impression. His campaign has more of a future than I’d thought.

—4—

And my take on the “meh” middle and the outright losers. (But what do I know?)

Scott Walker. He could really go either way. His answers seemed solid, so I know some people will put him in the “winners” camp. But he just seemed so flat to me. I guess I had a more fiery impression of him, because boy, was I unimpressed with his demeanor. He did nothing to stand out and in such a large field of candidates, I think that will be a handicap.

Chris Christie. Again with the going either way. He seemed very him on his answers, which his supporters will like. But he also seemed flat, which (again) surprised me, given his reputation. Moreover, I just don’t think he did much to win over the (sizeable) number of people who are lukewarm-to-hostile on him. I was kind of bored with his contribution.

Donald Trump. I just cannot stand that man. He was obnoxious and his answers were shallow and abrasive — exactly as I had expected. But I’m still shocked that as many people like him as they do, so who knows — what I saw as the height of annoying they may have seen as appealing. I have no idea. I give up.

Jep Bush. I like the guy – I always have. But for all his experience and money, he has a HUGE hurdle to overcome, given his surname. (I mean, while writing this I accidentally typed “George Bush.”) And I don’t think he performed nearly well enough to begin to move past it. I thought he looked uncomfortable and out of his element. It was painfully obvious just how long it’s been since he’s participated in a debate. Worse, his answers were just kind of okay and he didn’t seem to exude any of his brother’s joy or energy. He struck me as a candidate from another, less interesting generation. I walked away thinking of him as a less formidable competitor than I expected.

—5—

I didn’t get to watch the 5pm, second-tier debate (witching-hour viewing with three boys under the age of six? not gonna happen), but I’ve heard that Carly Fiorina did really, really well. I’ll have to check it out. I know very little about her.

—6—

You know I’ve got to say something more about Trump.

He dominated in the run-up to the debate and maybe he’ll dominate in the wake of it, but I’m glad that he didn’t get more air time during the debate than he did. Because just the idea of Donald Trump was so distracting to me, I had a hard time focusing on the others.

I can hardly describe to you just how much that man bothers me. I could go on and on. But at one point I posted the following on social media, and I’ll let it sum up my opinion of the guy:

“I’m trying to take notes on this thing, but every time I get to Trump, I can’t seem to write anything but: JERK.”

—7—

As for those I’m more favorably disposed to, I went in liking Bush, Rubio, and Kasich, but I wasn’t sure if any of them really had what it takes. Based on their performances last night, I’m less sure than ever about Bush. But I’m more hopeful than I expected to be about Rubio and Kasich. I plan to look into them further. Both strike me as pragmatic and positive, and compassionate to those who are struggling. It’s a good start.

~~~

Thanks for indulging my poly-sci-major giddiness about yesterday’s debates. I hope you’ll come back next week for the beginning of my little series. And I hope you’ll head over to Kelly’s today to check out the other Quick Takes! Have a great weekend!

These Walls - 7QT on Last Night's Debate - 5

The Religious Climate In My Here And Now

I was happy to see that Jen of Conversion Diary was revisiting her “religious climate” questions again this year. I always find the variety of answers she gets to be fascinating. (I’ve just realized that I always italicize the word “fascinating.” It doesn’t seem to work for me any other way.)

I’m not sure how fascinating my answers will be to anyone, as I live in the good ol’ U.S. of A. just like the majority of Jen’s readers, but I thought I’d tackle them nonetheless. Because I really like pondering questions of how religion and society interact.

First, let me (1) characterize my own little corner of the world, and (2) emphasize that this characterization, and all of the answers below, simply reflect my sense of my corner. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of my neighbors or relatives reacted to it with, “Where the heck are you? It’s not like that where I live!”

Just like so much of the United States, my State is distinctly divided along cultural/political lines. We have some very liberal areas and some very conservative areas. We have urban areas and rural ones. We have great wealth and real poverty. We have wealthy/intellectual liberal, urban/poor liberal, rural/suburban conservative. And the factions don’t always mix very well.

Too often, they quite purposefully don’t mix at all. Or if they mix in one sphere (say, the workplace), they feel like they have to keep their political/cultural/religious sides to themselves. It’s quite possible for the conversation in #3, below, to be very comfortable and friendly in one setting and extremely uncomfortable – maybe even laughable – in another. Same place; different mix of people; very different outcomes.

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1. WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

In the greater Washington, D.C. area.

2. WHAT IS CHURCH ATTENDANCE LIKE? ARE THERE MANY CHURCHES?

There are lots of churches. Catholic churches in suburban areas seem to be full. Most of the parishes I’ve attended have been standing-room only for the main Sunday mass(es), less full at Saturday and early-Sunday-morning masses. They’ve had anywhere from 3 to 12 masses per weekend and their sanctuaries have probably averaged 500 seats. That adds up to lots of people.

That said, Christmas and Easter masses seem to draw at least three times as many attendees as “regular” Sundays. They necessitate additions to the mass schedule and/or the addition of an improvised worship space (i.e. a school gym). Which tells me that if all the Catholics in my area actually attended mass on a weekly basis, we’d need to get very busy building churches.

In short, Catholic churches seem full, but for every active Catholic, there must be several more who rarely or never attend mass.

Mainline Protestant churches seem smaller and (from my limited experience) emptier. Evangelical churches seem to have bigger, fuller parking lots, so I’d guess they do better in the attendance department. We also have some (not lots) of “mega-churches,” of which I know little.

We also have a fair number of houses of worship for people of faiths other than Christianity. Our region has so many people from other parts of the world, we’ve got members of just about any faith you can imagine.

3. HOW APPROPRIATE WOULD IT BE FOR A PERSON TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT HE OR SHE IS A BELIEVING CHRISTIAN IN CASUAL CONVERSATION?

Per the above, it depends. It would probably always be minimally acceptable. In some parts it would be accepted and encouraged; in others it would seem strange or even inappropriate.

4. WHAT KIND OF FAITH DO THE POLITICIANS CLAIM TO PRACTICE?

We have politicians of different faiths. Most would claim some faith; few would claim none. But even those who claim a faith in common with their constituents would be unlikely to talk about it too widely.

5. HOW COMMON WOULD IT BE TO SEE A FAMILY WITH MORE THAN THREE KIDS? WHAT ARE THE ATTITUDES TOWARD FAMILY SIZE?

Two to three children is considered normal; four is still mostly “acceptable.” Any number over that – or even three/four if they’re spaced closely together – is usually viewed as strange.

6. WHAT WAS THE DOMINANT BELIEF SYSTEM IN YOUR AREA 50 YEARS AGO? WHAT IS IT NOW?

My sense is that 50 years ago my area was more culturally and religiously conservative, if not politically. People were likely more church-going than they are now. There were far fewer religious minorities, but there was still a good mix of Catholic and Protestant Christians.

But that “mix” would have been in the broad sense. I’m under the impression that people of different faiths are much more comfortable with each other now than they used to be. I think the Catholic and Protestant communities were much more distinct and divided 50 years ago. My (Catholic) grandmother still vividly remembers a terrible experience from her childhood, when her (public) elementary school teacher in a predominantly Protestant rural area went on an anti-Catholic rant in class.

Per my answer in #2, there is much religious diversity. Still, Catholic and Protestant Christianity predominate.

7. DO THE PEOPLE WHERE YOU LIVE SEEM HAPPY WITH THEIR LIVES?

Given the current political stalemate in Washington and how dependent our local economy is on the government (many friends are furloughed right now), people don’t seem too happy at the moment. More broadly, I still sense a general unhappiness/sadness/frustration. Even if one’s own family has survived the economic (and political) crises just fine, they’re likely to have friends or family who haven’t.

Thanks for the great questions, Jen! I look forward to seeing what everyone’s got to say!

An Ideal Government

There was an interesting discussion on the crisis (if you will) of democracy in the West this morning on The Diane Rehm Show. As per usual, I didn’t get to hear the program in its entirety because, you know – toddlers. But it brought forward some thoughts that have been swirling around in my head for some time.

P1140675It seems to me that in the United States, at least, a fundamental disagreement regarding the appropriate role of government is bubbling to the surface. Yes, it’s about “big” vs. “small” government, but aside from those terms being too broad, I think they’re also too subjective. (One person’s “small” is another person’s “big,” isn’t it?) Rather, I view the breakout as one of attitude. How do we think of our ideal government? The following is surely too broad and too rough, but for a quick get-us-thinking post, I hope it will do.

Many people (and most of the press) function under the idea that government, when it works properly, exists to solve problems and spur progress. Under this paradigm, some of the marks of good government are action, innovation, and cooperation.

Other people (including some of the most famous talk radio hosts) function under the idea that government exists simply to establish a basic framework of freedoms, security, and infrastructure. Under this paradigm, the primary mark of good government is restraint.

Like I said, it’s overly broad. “Basic framework,” in particular, is open to a wide range of interpretations. But still, I think it’s important for us each to consider our own inclinations. Do I respond more favorably to the idea of a government that makes my life better or to one that I hardly have cause to notice?

I wish more political pundits would start at this basic question. I’m so tired of hearing one guy say that Washington is “broken” because politicians won’t work together to solve the nation’s problems – and then changing the channel to hear another guy praise a Washington “outsider” who wants to get government out of the business of doing any such thing.

Perhaps Washington isn’t broken because politicians aren’t working together. Perhaps it’s broken because citizens (and therefore politicians) don’t have a common concept of what government should be. Let’s acknowledge this. Let’s examine our own personal desires for our government. Let’s encourage others to do so as well. Because whatever is broken in Washington, it’s not going to get fixed when we don’t even take into consideration that we’re working from entirely different pages.

What do you think? What would your ideal government look like?