Cultural change is the recent theme here at Thoughtbasket; I discussed how a company might change its culture, and then how America might change some aspects of its culture. Today I want to look at a particular part of America: Congress. The U.S. Congress seems unable to solve any of the problems facing our country, and consequently has an approval rating of only 11 percent, which is the lowest ever. If a group is unable to complete the sole task it is given (governing, in this case) and thus is held in contempt by its bosses (voters, in this case), then that group probably has a culture problem.
The congressional cultural problem is that the entire institution values reelection instead of service (which is why incumbents are reelected more than 80% of the time). Power is more important than policy. Much like the corporation in my first post on this topic had a culture where everyone thought it was OK to be late for meetings, congress has a culture where everyone thinks that it’s OK to prioritize staying in office over doing the job you were elected to do, which is govern.
We can blame each individual congressman – and believe me, I do – but really, it is the institution and its culture that is truly to blame. Expecting some moronic ex-exterminator who only gets a two-year term to swim against a cultural tide of reelection is probably naïve. So, much like in my efforts to change cultural components in the US as a whole, we need a team approach. John Boehner + Nancy Pelosi = change?
I wrote last year about how John Boehner could be a hero by teaming up with democrats to pass substantive policy that would address the nation’s fiscal problems. Here is another opportunity for heroic action: he could rally all of congress, teaming with his arch enemies, to promote a culture of service instead selfishness.
John Boehner has a choice: he can lead the Republicans, or he can save the country. He can’t do both.
The vote on the recent budget deal showed that compromises won’t get votes from tea party Republicans. Fifty-nine Republicans voted no on the agreement, and Boehner had to team up with Democrats to get something passed. Pundits are discussing whether Boehner will move right to get a unified Republican caucus. He’ll have to if a unified Republican caucus is his goal.
But Boehner’s goal should not be keeping his party together; it should be fixing the country. Instead, of moving right to pass “Republican” bills that will get vetoed by the President, what he should do is move left and pass meaningful reform with strong bipartisan support. Boehner can team regular (non-tea party) Republicans with conservative Democrats to come up with a common sense approach to solving our fiscal problems. America is a centrist country and Boehner has a chance to create a centrist solution.
The reality is that everybody knows the logical way to solve our debt problem. We need cuts in all spending: discretionary, military and entitlements, coupled with revenue increases. The debt is too big for either spending cuts or tax increases alone to solve the problem. We also need to control health care costs, which are driving Medicare and Medicaid to such extreme levels.
So stop jerking around with politics and start solving the problem. Boehner can lead the charge, and be a hero, if he is willing to walk away from his extreme fringe. He just needs to be less of a Republican and more of an American.
By the way, there is a similar situation in the Senate, with Tom Coburn in the bipartisan gang of six fighting with legendary douchebag Grover Norquist over tax increases.
Grover Norquist: Pompous Douche
The more I read about politics today, the more it seems like nobody really listens to what anybody else says. One person’s words are just a starting point for an opponent’s talking points, which may or may not have direct relation to those initial words. Politicians, pundits and bloggers are all guilty of this, including your humble correspondent.
This dynamic struck me when I was reading a New Yorker article about drone strikes in Pakistan. The article questioned whether the strikes might be counterproductive, because they kill so many civilians. The article quoted enough counterinsurgency experts who felt that way to make the concept seem reasonable, and if it’s reasonable that we are doing something unproductive, let’s explore and find out. But can you imagine the shitstorm that would result if a politician actually tried to investigate the matter? If Obama announced a commission to explore the efficacy of drone strikes, Rush Limbaugh and his ilk would go ballistic (note the clever missile-based double entendre).
That thought made me realize that it’s incredibly hard to solve problems when we are unable to even discuss the problems. The possible counterproductivity of drone strikes is a legitimate issue. The question of whether a government-run health care plan is a good idea, especially given the overwhelming cost of Medicare, is a legitimate issue. How best to reform our financial system is a legitimate issue. But so many attempts to discuss these issues are drowned in demagoguery that we never get anywhere. For example, John Boehner (R-Ohio, House minority leader, complete douche) called health care reform “the greatest threat to freedom he has ever seen.” There are plenty of reasons to criticize the health care reform bill, but that sort of hyperbole doesn’t serve any policy purpose. Since both sides of the aisle agree that some reform is needed, wouldn’t it be more productive to have a reasonable discussion of policy than to ignore the facts and say things that are clearly false?
So here is what I encourage us all to do: stop, listen and think.
- Stop: Before responding, take the time to hear somebody’s full argument. Don’t start preparing your response before they are done. Or before they have even started.
- Listen: Actually listen to the argument, so that you can understand what they are saying. Don’t assume that you can extrapolate from who they are to what they will say.
- Think: Truly think about what was said. What are the assumptions? Does the logic flow? Where do you agree or disagree?
If more people were to stop, listen and think, we could have far more effective discussions in this country. Of course, there is really a fourth step: respond honestly. In my example above, John Boehner doesn’t really think that health care reform is the greatest threat to freedom ever. He knows it’s not. He is just saying that because he’s been trained to talk in hyperbolic sound bites. And because he’s kind of an ass. But if we all – bloggers, protestors, commentators, politicians – can begin responding honestly after we stop, listen and think, then maybe we can all be trained to talk in terms of policies and positions instead of attacks and sound bites.