We elect our national legislature on November 7. We also elect a number of governors and other state officials. I’m curious, how many citizens are happy with the choices they have as they look forward to election day? Do they expect good things from their representatives? Or do they think that voting is a waste of time because after all, what difference does it make?
I want to argue that we already have a huge and growing group of people who don’t fit easily in either of these categories. They want to expect good things from their leaders, and they are not conventionally apathetic about politics. They know that the leaders we elect to represent us in public offices actually make a big difference. They also know that the people the Republicans and Democrats have brought into public life are, in general, not good leaders. In asking us to vote for people who don’t deserve our vote, the major parties have failed in their main job: to recruit honest, competent candidates who can serve their constituents with dignity and vision.
We didn’t even have political parties as such when our republic started out. We had loose associations of like-minded political types in the various states, so young that people still thought of them as former colonies. Political parties evolved out of that maelstrom, and by Jefferson’s presidency we had partisanship, if not organization, that we would readily recognize today. We’ve had troubles before – big troubles – and always a leader has come on the scene to help us through them. The famous examples are Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression and the Second World War. We have entered another period of trouble, and we need a leader of similar stature to bring us through it.
So many people recognize our need for good leadership now. So many people realize that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can supply such leadership. Why they can’t supply it is a complicated argument in itself, but the simple answer is that they have lost our trust. The Republicans have proven they can’t lead, and the Democrats aren’t fit to lead in their stead. We don’t trust our leadership anymore, and I’m not thinking of the healthy skepticism American’s have always had regarding professional politicians. I mean that we know, deep in our core, that our current leaders aren’t capable of doing the right thing. We know as well, based on their behavior over the last four years, that the Democrats who would like to lead us can’t lay a claim to our trust either.
Systems change slowly, though, and almost all the candidates up for election in November will be Democrats or Republicans. We vote for them out of habit or because we’re forced to, because we don’t want to stay at home that day. Some will vote enthusiastically, with fresh hopes for victory that evening. They do believe, they are loyal to their chosen party. They believe that victory for their candidate does make a difference. The other huge group is fed up: fed up that our current leadership is so bad, and fed up that the prospects for improved leadership are so dim. Where will we find the leader who will bring us through this war?
The standard reply to a question like that comes to mind readily enough. If you aren’t satisfied with the current state of things, don’t stand at the sidelines to carp, criticize, and complain. Get in the arena and do what you have to do. Our country needs doers, not gripers or procrastinators.
That’s a good response, but it overlooks a big problem. To get in the arena and have an effect when you are not involved in one of the major parties is not so easy. You might as well say, go out and start a new car manufacturing company, and make it successful. The barriers to entry are large and real. Yes, there are a lot of groups out there that are active in the political arena. Only two of them recruit most of our political leaders, though. Only two of them recruit most of the candidates who appear on the numerous ballots prepared for November 7.
James Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tells a story about his dad in the film. Mr. Smith’s father was a newspaper publisher who was killed for taking up an unpopular cause in his paper. Smith recalled his dad saying, “The lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” Well, is finding new leadership for the United States a lost cause? Would you like to fight for this or some other lost cause? This paradoxical saying has some wisdom in it, but few people would care to act on it.
The Democrats and Republicans act as if they don’t realize they have lost our trust. They are not going to solve this big problem. Someone from outside the two major parties will have to come forward, rise up, or be called, whatever the correct phrase is. It’ll have to be someone with courage and character. Wisdom is a good job qualification, too: if we can find someone with those qualities, we can overlook a lot of weaknesses. Don’t wait for the two parties to produce a leader like that, though. The two parties have discredited themselves. We need a new source of leaders, and we can’t wait long.