Saturday, April 24, 2010

The problem isn't in 'Washington' -- it's in our culture and history

Today I learned that a conservative candidate is running for Congress in my district. Two weeks ago, African-American conservative columnist Star Parker announced that she would do the same in the Los Angeles area. Both, in districts now represented by Democrats, say that they want to shake things up in Washington, complaining that the federal government doesn't really work for "the people." However, I would say that they're being a tad naive if they believe that change for the sake of change will truly matter.

I think it comes from an idea that those who live and work in D.C. are completely out of touch with "the people" and are out only for themselves. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Part of the problem is that Washington, D.C. is represented by 435 distinct regions, all of which send people to Congress to represent "the people." And considering the urban/suburban/exurban/rural divide; our racial, ethnic, class and cultural differences; and the basic political philosophies that shape us as a result, in my view we should be happy that our government works as well as it does. Rather, if we want to blame someone for constant gridlock, we need only look in the mirror.

You see, we have the mentality in this country that government should work for our parochial interests and nothing else and when that doesn't happen we say we'll find someone else who will. However, candidates know full well they can't campaign on side issues and use their office as part of a moral crusade to satisfy a relatively few number of people. That's why abortion simply isn't as big a political issue as its activists on either side would like it to be; only twice have I seen campaign ads about it (the first in the 1994 Pennsylvania governor's race, the second just two years ago with the presidential campaign).

And when you have such tunnel-vision, especially when the only people you associate with think similarly, you start to believe that everyone does and only a tiny elite minority is stopping your agenda from becoming, if not the law, accepted truth. Basically, if you don't get your way you can become resentful of the whole enterprise.

But, as I mentioned earlier, our nation is far more diverse than that. The two candidates mentioned above are running in areas now represented by Democrats; for that reason alone they face an uphill slog. While party affiliation does mean a lot, I think the two candidates will have to articulate why a "conservative" affiliation would improve things for most people.

And I don't see that happening. Based on past history, I assume that conservative activist groups not connected with anyone in those immediate areas will pour large sums of money in support of their respective candidacies -- and remember that Americans don't take kindly to "outsiders telling us what to do." That happened in 1984 when the governor of Idaho vetoed a bill sharply restricting abortion in that state. (In other words, the tactic may backfire.)

I'm not saying that the two conservatives shouldn't run for office -- they certainly have that right. But in doing so, they should consider that they also represent people who don't agree with them, and should they win election but fail to provide appropriate services in and contacts with the community they represent, they can easily be voted out.

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