Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There's No Eye In Team

Reasons abound why Wisconsin has gone blind to political corruption. Among them is the pathology evident in the major political parties. Belonging to a political party used to be like joining a club. Now it's more like getting caught up in a cult.

The frightening characteristics of religious cults are on prominent display in the two major parties. Even in a state like Wisconsin with its long history of independent politics and maverick politicians, party leaders now make constant references to what their "team" thinks. They enforce an unwritten rule forbidding lawmakers and their staffs from socializing or otherwise fraternizing with members of the opposing party. They feed members "talking points" that at first seem innocuous enough but after awhile resemble indoctrination in a terrifying group-think that rationalizes corrupt and even criminal behavior. Rank and file members who do not walk lockstep are first stripped of choice committee assignments or otherwise punished. If they don't fall in line, more pliable replacements are recruited.

The leaders of the major political parties who populate Wisconsin's state Legislature and our nation's Congress are not remotely representative of the people. These bosses are obsessed with who's right and who's left. If they’d spend half as much time thinking about what's right and wrong, we wouldn't be in the midst of political corruption scandals of historic proportions. And the majority of citizens might not feel politically homeless, as they do now.

The people of Wisconsin and America are not as hopelessly divided as the political pundits like to claim. We all have much in common. But the party bosses thrive on playing up what distinguishes them from their political enemies, and this cult mentality leads them to ceaselessly drive wedges between groups of citizens.

There's much that needs doing if we are to restore some sense of honor to government. But while we endeavor to throw the bums out, we also need to think about creating a political home for common folks. We need a common party. One where common sense matters more than ideological purity. And one where talk of the common good is not so uncommon.

Maybe one of the existing parties will finally take notice of the public's wholesale retreat from public life, sense a growth opportunity, and make an offer the commoners can't refuse. Maybe.

Just as likely, we're approaching one of those historic turning points that calls for the creation of something brand new and tests our capacity for democratic renewal.

Either way, the near future promises to be exhilarating . . . or petrifying, depending on how you take to social upheaval. Because the status quo is not sustainable. Something's got to give.

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