Partisan Politics Will Kill Us All

Friday, October 17th.

I watch a lot of news. Working at a deli, my boss and I tend to leave the store’s TV tuned to CNN so our customers can grab a quick byte while they grab a quick bite. Since I don’t enjoy the luxury afforded to our customers of a blissfully brief encounter with the toxic nature of the 24-hour news cycle, I try to vary our viewership as much as possible, throwing in MSNBC, FOX, BBC and Al Jazeera for flavor. Needless to say, I’ve become slightly numb to the constant flow of inane speculation and ratings-driven tragedy exploitation. Earlier this evening, however, something percolated through my jaded layer of emotional calluses to inspire a feeling I can only accurately describe as hopeless rage.

As I was going about the monotonous litany of tasks involved in closing down a restaurant, I unmuted the TV to listen in on a CNN report on the governmental response to the recent cases of Ebola in Texas. I began to zone out as a panel of CNN’s finest talking heads discussed the possibility of banning travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the nations most affected in the Ebola outbreak. I heard one of the panelists mention that the Obama administration would appoint a man named Ron Klain as their new ‘Ebola Czar’ after repeated requests from Republican leadership. My interest piqued, I turned to watch as the commentator continued: “but isn’t it true that Republicans have repeatedly blocked the appointment of a new Surgeon General?” My mind went blank for a second. I mentally flipped through my admittedly extensive library of high-yield profanities for something to hurl at the screen. Coming up empty, I opted to continue my rather undignified slack-jawed stare. Like I said, I watch a whole lot of news and even to me, this seemed a little too ridiculous to be true.

In fact, not only was it true, but the story got better (or worse). The GOP, after repeatedly and vocally condemning the Obama administration strategy of appointing ‘czars’ to centralize responsibility of coordinating government action for various policies on a single individual, had in fact called for the appointment of an ‘Ebola Czar’. In response to the piecemeal response to the three Ebola cases in Dallas and missteps by the Centers for Disease Control in implementing an effective response strategy, Republican spokespeople were howling for the appointment of a czar, seemingly reversing their position on the matter. After a few days of stonewalling by the White House, it was finally announced that Ron Klain would be appointed to the position of ‘Ebola Response Coordinator’.

The GOP response was immediate. Party leaders and pundits alike materialized on the air, eloquently condemning Klain’s appointment despite having requested it in the first place. A laundry list of complaints was aired, most notably Klain’s lack of medical knowledge and relative youthfulness. As political operators, every single one of these critics would know beyond any shadow of doubt that the Ebola Czar position would be an entirely bureaucratic and non-medical one, and that Ron Klain is well known as a skilled bureaucrat and an expert in facilitating inter-agency bureaucratic efforts. In fact, his entire career he has done almost nothing else. I felt a wave of existential nausea. Perhaps the piecemeal response to the Ebola cases that precipitated Klain’s appointment wouldn’t have been necessary if, say, America had a Surgeon General?

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Obama administration’s nominee for the post of Surgeon General has been waiting in the wings for almost a full year, watching Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak fill in for him as his confirmation continues to stall. Democratic party leaders have not even attempted to bring the confirmation before the Senate for fear of failure, due to enthusiastic opposition led by Senator Rand Paul and organizations like the National Rifle Association. The NRA decided to throw its weight against Murthy’s confirmation after Murthy tweeted that he believed gun control was a health care issue. The NRA doesn’t care that Murthy would have about zero ability to influence gun control policy as Surgeon General, they just don’t like being disagreed with and have very powerful friends. Despite petitions like those at CREDOaction.com (94,000 signatures), MoveOn.org (6,300 signatures) and Change.org (3,400 signatures) calling for Dr. Murthy’s confirmation, the process remains dead in the water.

In 1826, John Hobhouse coined the phrase ‘loyal opposition’ in a debate before the British parliament. Webster’s define the term as “a minority party especially in a legislative body whose opposition to the party in power is constructive, responsible, and bounded by loyalty to fundamental interests and principles”. Simply put, the concept of a loyal opposition means that the minority party should and in fact must oppose the majority in defense of their own principles until that defense comes into conflict with the greater purpose and functions of governance. In October of last year, the GOP forced a shutdown of the United States federal government, an action which directly caused billions of dollars in lost productivity and the first-ever downgrade of the federal government’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s.

I’m no government naysayer. I know that the twentysomething disenfranchised liberal set is generally inclined toward a pessimistically anarchist stance, dismissive of the entire American political apparatus as a corrupt and ineffectual mechanism needing to be disposed of entirely and replaced completely. While I would wholeheartedly agree that the current generation of American lawmakers can be described as corrupt and ineffectual and should probably be, to a man, fired or charged with something resembling criminal negligence, it is also my firm belief that the underlying system is not beyond repair. I believe in the system. I drink the system Kool-Aid.

I’m a student of history. I know well the incredible feats of which our government is capable. We are the nation that walked on the moon and by sheer force of political will conquered the world’s worst economic depression. The federal government is also responsible for great catastrophes, most recently bank deregulation causing a massive recession and a diverse buffet of international geopolitical conflicts. If the elected officials of the federal government refuse to perform the basic functions they were elected to perform, we the voting public as active agents in the political system must take it upon ourselves to correct this miscarriage of democracy. We can become the loyal opposition and force policymakers to actually make policy. The power of a politician and his ability to make and enforce laws is derived from the consent of a majority of the voting public. For the record, America, that’s us.

When the polls open for the midterm election on November 4th, we should all cast our ballots for politicians demonstrating a potential for actual productivity. Forget for a moment your party allegiances, forget liberal versus conservative conflict and forget the issues. American citizens must stop and take a moment to deal with a few problems in our democratic process. We must all vote against entrenched incumbents who exacerbate the stagnation of the political process by exploiting partisan conflict for personal and political gain. The American government needs to serve the interests of American people, not American politicians. Our votes can make that happen.

Drink the Kool-Aid with me.

Montclair State | New Jersey
10.21.2014

Ben Sanders

Ben is an international man of mystery. He likes his whiskey neat and his plane rides without turbulence.