As the first decade of the 21st century closes, our great nation is challenged in many ways. We are experiencing a huge national debt, state governments across the land are on the brink, high unemployment is rampant, our roads and bridges are crumbling, our overall infrastructure is degrading; and we have an education system that is in decline. The political morass in Washington and across the country is incapable of offering solutions. What’s worse is that there is a widespread feeling of hopelessness and lack of direction in a large segment of our citizenry. Recent polls indicate eight out of 10 Americans mistrust their government.
This frustration has given rise to several movements whose purpose is to address these difficulties. The tea party, Occupy Wall Street, 99 percent vs. 1 percent, and the Transfer Bank Funds Day are all examples of the frustrations being felt by citizens.
In Montana, politics is entrenched in the “us versus them” mentality. Extremism has become an accepted and standard norm. The Billings Gazette recently detailed the emergence of additional and larger extremist groups in northwestern Montana all while Montanans observed the most contentious state legislative session in recent memory.
For the ordinary citizen, the inability of our elected leaders to address our current challenges is disheartening. In our political system, the prodigious qualities of statesmanship, politeness and civility are becoming a fading memory. Respectable leadership qualities once formed the basis for consensus, problem solving and forward progress. Today, these qualities are often lacking in state and national government.
Our current state of affairs doesn’t go unnoticed by the American people.
So how did we get here? Without pointing fingers, it is clear that the pervasive influence of money in the political process has been debilitating. This money-based political system breeds influence peddling, favoritism and crony capitalism, which have put the system and the American dream in jeopardy. Money has turned politics into an economic exercise, and it is compromising the best interests of our states and the nation. Large parts of our citizenry lack the “ante” to play the game and as a result become marginalized and excluded. Our Founding Fathers would be ashamed.
Plato suggested that a democracy would ultimately fail because it required an informed citizenry who could knowledgeably vote their own self-interest. Politics today makes it difficult for voters to do this. Citizens are bombarded with a well financed, dizzying, undecipherable and never-ending spin. Politics has become a mass of blurred information fed to us through sophisticated marketing techniques that make it almost impossible for the voter to think through issues and discern fact from fiction — yet an intelligent and fully formed body is the only real antidote to partisanship and its resulting gridlock.
Real capitalism and our democratic system are gasping for air. Relative to paying down the national debt, the recent congressional debacle is a glaring example of our country gasping for air and an embarrassment to our nation on the world stage.
Democracy in America was never meant to be easy. Its promise to its citizens has always been that individual and collective efforts bring opportunities for better lives. Today, our young people, eager and well trained, enter a society wondering if they have a place at the table. More disturbing is this generation’s disgust with our system of government. This state of affairs will ultimately crush and tear apart the promise and fabric of America.
We will regain our footing by being informed and more carefully selecting leadership that does not sell out and instead puts the interests of our way of life in the forefront. Anything less puts our futures in peril. We need voters supporting candidates who display, heart, courage and willingness to do what is right for the greatest good. For this our nation waits and prays.
(Jim Roscoe is owner of Roscoe Steel & Culvert Company, a Montana corporation, and Dennis McDonald is a rancher, past president of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, past chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and 2012 congressional candidate.)