Partisanship is Killing Our Neighborhoods

Originally posted at Local Sid: Partisanship is Killing Our Neighborhoods

My dear friend, Chuck Marohn, was on a radio show in Wisconsin this week called Koeping with Government. First let me say this. I think while Chuck has no doubt done some great things for the communities he has worked for, his greatest achievements — his contributions to this great country — are only now beginning to be unveiled. Before I make this sound like an eulogy, I will quickly quip that some of the greatest minds of this country have been people who forced us, through simple articulation of a critical but often ignored perspective, to think differently. Chuck will always make you stop and think, no matter your belief system.

The show was recorded and I hope you will listen to it. I want you to hear it for two reasons. First, his message is important. Our cities have been mortgaged for the faux mantras of economic development and “mobility”. Instead, they are becoming places laden with debt and hampered by immobility. We are literally being lied to and are lying to ourselves about what we can afford in roads and infrastructure.

Secondly, the hidden message — one I wish was spoken more loudly more often — is that our politics is killing our neighborhoods. It is killing them because we are being convinced by politicians that we can’t get along. That our differences are too great. What you will recognize if you listen to this podcast is that two very different ideologies can and must learn to recognize our common burden. All politics isn’t local. Just turn on the TV. What perhaps is more true is that all politics should be rooted locally. We should determine what is best for our country by what is best for our neighborhoods.

I have all but given up on the populist political movements of today for this reason alone. They are far too concerned with DC, thereby — in my opinion — giving all the power to DC. We need strong, local political and social movements. We need stronger towns. Strong towns make for better public safety. Better public health. More freedom for the markets to pick and choose winners and losers. Again, we are being divided on issues that are national and are then being prepped to import the partisanship back into our communities where the issues are much more practical. You can hear it clearly during the interview. We actually want to argue — not because we actually know more, but because we have been taught that certain people with certain ideas are wrong and always wrong — about everything. The political system of today is framing the argument all wrong. It is being framed in a way that makes it easy for campaign managers and pollsters to spin into money. Don’t buy it. Focus on what is generating productivity and wealth in your own life and the life of your neighborhood and it will be a lot easier to formulate knowledgeable positions on topics like The Fair Tax or transportation.

I don’t want to end with you assuming fatalism should be embraced and we should simply just opt-out of the political party system we have. Please vote. But don’t vote based on party lines. Vote for the man or woman with the most character and for whom you believe will fight to bring the power back to our neighborhoods. Vote for stronger towns and we will have a stronger America.

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Will Saunders

I’m glad someone posted this. I’ve been thinking this sort of thing for a long time. Many politicians support or oppose ideas purely along partisan lines, whether or not the ideas are good ones. That’s the one thing that is consistent no matter what the political party. Perhaps there should be a shift in political structure eliminating partisan kinship. Let candidates stand on a platform and they will float or sink on the merits of the hot air they spew. I also think there needs to be term limits, because I believe the longer they serve, the more they lose touch. But term limits is another whole can of worms.

Raymond Clark

I work in D.C. and watch the Congress for a living. I also have an elderly cousin in KY on SSN paying $400 a month for health insurance as a single proprietor. I go back there often to get the feel for what people outside the beltway think. I talk to other family members and friends around the county as well. I review a dozen papers around the country every morning. I am a student of the Congress and of our political system. I set this up this way to give you a basis for what I am about to say.

This artical is true to a point. The premise is that its our politicians, both local and national, have strayed from the path of compromise and citizenship to form irrasible partisan positions leading to inaction on a wide variety of issues. Just look at the Supercommittee’s failure to get $1.2 trillion deal. Its pitiful. But, why has it come to this?

Its a classic chicken and egg story. Who went bad first, the electorate or the politicals? Who really influences congressional members to think, act and vote the way they do? There are great influencers there to include the dreaded lobbyist. However, walk into any congressional office and the main business of the day is getting re-elected. They get re-elected by helping constiuents and paying attention to their needs, their demands. If you see an average daily set of mail that comes into these offices you can see why these hardcore, unmovable positions have formed. Their constituents are demanding it.

So, its my view that the problem lies with us–the voter. As a society we have become more devisive, self-centered, and unwilling to accept anything less than perfect. Why do you think we’ve spent ourselves into oblivion? Because we could. We allowed our politicians to do it because was wanted bigger roads, better schools, better water and air, better healthcare etc. and not cairing about the consequences of paying for it.

Look at the local neighborhoods today. How many of us know our neighbors? How often to we get together with them to play, celebrate, or work on a common problem. Rarely in my experience and the experiences of those I talk with. The problem is us. We must regain our ability to reach out to each other, solve common problems, and be willing to not be the center of our world. Until we can regain that, nothing else matters.

Steven Clift

My experience is that national hyper-partisanship can be countered locally online.

Unfortunately, our trusted brands in local major media with anonymous/alias-based online news commenting have taken the worst of national partisan debate and given it almost exclusive reign online in our local communities.

How many local city council members or city managers will say, online news commenting as hosted in their community is both enhancing political accountability and increasing the capacity of a community to solve problems? No instead they will say, and they will be right, that the pattern of partisan vitriol is being pumped into local politics with a personalize “nasty man behind the curtain” effect.

What to do? Some papers are adopting real names via Facebook commenting. That seems to be the cheapest solution.

In other communities both .org efforts (like E-Democracy.org’s Neighbors Issues Forums) and .com efforts are bringing people together as part of the “Locals Online” movement. Some models use very public forums covering 10,000 residents and others use private model for under 500 households. While we prefer a foundation of “public” participation to foster community engagement, it is notable from the experience in my own neighborhood that the trust we’ve built based on community life exchange allows us to keep people with diverse views in the same and ongoing exchange. If partisans don’t have a place to work with the local political polar opposites for the mutual benefit of their local neighborhood, then we will be in trouble.

Jay Johnson

Indeed, DC is at worst the source of our problems or at best unable to find solutions to them. Let’s not wait for them to ‘bail us out.’ Let’s find things that work (or don’t work) and go trom there, Locally, we have way more to gain and lose than those in DC.

I’ll definely listen to that audio as well, thanks

Sid Burgess

Just wanted to chime in and say thank you to each of your for the thoughtful comments. I have enjoyed reading, and then re-reading each of them. The goal of my post was to encourage thinking and discussion about how much time we really focus on local issues and if the federal distraction is harming our overall ability as a nation (full of communities) to remain resilient. Chuck does a great job on the show explaining some simple ways we can do this from a built perspective. Thanks again for the kind feedback and the thought-provoking comments.

Allison Primack

There were a few responses to this topic on GovLoop’s LinkedIn Group. Here they are:

Mark FormanHave spent most of the 1990s on the Hill, there are always individuals that get along. The problem is that we only see the public posturing and this is in response to constituent views. I think this is a sign of very strong differences across America. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is so much difference of opinion as it is a battle between those who support an active government and those who are looking at the numbers and don’t see an affordable path to a compromise. What’s got this all boxed up is a lack of demand and supply for objective authoritative data in this time of economic globalization. The 20th century government policies may not be right for the 21st century, but no one seems to have a 21st century solution to popularize. I am wrong here?

Janina H.Yes. I think it is. Politicians are more concerned about party lines than the affects of their actions on the future of our country. They are making a lot of money selling us out. They stand up and say one thing, then turn around the following day and say they never said that. It is all recorded, you can google, or bing your way to the truth if you go look for it. If you are just going to let the media tell you stupid things without checking for facts, you will probably be lead along by the nose to the slaughter house. Do we really want such wishy washy people leading us? How do we know who they really are? For sale to the highest bidder. Seems to be global corruption, local levels, all the way up. Everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t I get my share? I am hoping some pied piper leads the lemmings over the cliff.