The recent vice-presidential debate ended with the candidates responding to a question by Brecklynn Brown, an eighth grader at Springville Junior High in Springville, Utah.
Her question: “When I watch the news all I see is arguments between Democrats and Republicans … Citizens fighting against citizens from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?”
Unfortunately, Brecklynn, neither candidate responded to your comment well.
Vice President Mike Pence said: “We love a good debate … but we always come together and are always there for one another.”
No, politicians don’t! It reminded me of how preachers sometimes describe their church by saying, “The church stands for such and such.” It took me a long time to realize they were talking about how church members ideally should be acting, not the way they actually did.
Sen. Harris said: “I love to hear from our future leaders …. It will be because of your leadership.” What she really was saying is: “We don’t know how to solve this problem now, but we hope you can!” This was not encouraging.
To help you understand why politicians fight and will keep fighting, I want to share a story.
I once was talking to a young congressman at a social dinner, and I told him who my congressman was. He said, “Oh, yes, he’s a good friend.” Since they were from different parts of the country, I asked, “How is he a good friend?” He thought for a moment and said, “He contributes a lot to my campaign.”
I was very surprised, thinking, “Wow, they actually contribute to each other’s campaigns!” This eventually led me to a deeper understanding of how parties work.
If you want to have a bill passed into law, your party has to win a majority in both the House and the Senate, and your party has to win the White House, where the president signs the bills. To win, you have to play as a team. You have to support each other, not only financially, but you have to vote the way your team tells you.
If you don’t win the House, Senate and presidency, you have to wait for four years to get what you want done. In the meantime, your team tries to stop the other team all along the way.
What I just described isn’t 100% accurate, but it should give you some idea why the two parties are always fighting with each other. If they want to get anything done, they are desperate to stop the other team.
That’s what Vice-President Pence and Sen. Harris could not tell you in the debate.
Many people think of “Republican” or “Democrat” as who we are, part of our being. But those party names are simply labels that describe something we do — the way we vote. We need to separate our identity from our party. You have made a good start in doing this, simply by asking the question you did.
What if you and every teenager ask your parents: What does Republican or Democrat mean to you? What values does that represent for you? In what way does your party support your values?
Most people I talk to have difficulty in answering these questions. Many of us seem to live with the “my team, right or wrong” mentality, without defining the values our team represents. When we look at values, most of us share the same values.
But we are stuck in an electoral system where the other team is different, bad and should lose. In the big picture, the real team is the American people – not Democrats or Republicans. That team loses in every election! (Actually, the real team is ultimately the human race, but we aren’t ready for that right now!)
Brecklynn, the honest answer to your question should have been: “We lack the courage to work with each other to resolve the issue of how party politics cripples our country.” You have made an excellent start. Keep up the good work for our team!
The author is a Santa Barbara resident.