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The Great Debate…Or Not

Democracy is messy. It’s a truth that we usually ignore because democracy is usually wrapped up in red, white and blue balloons, tiny American flags and the occasional hanging chad. But as we see, night after night in some VFW hall or some community college classroom, making sure everyone has their voice heard is a giant mess. But all of this is a mirage.

The underlying problem with this is that we are not a democracy, we are a republic. So when the electorate believes that their voice matters, and they start taking issues into their own hands, the result is this:

Government, like history, is dictated by the winner. Over the past 8 years, there were protests with signs and singing and chanting, but there was never really any debate. The Bush Administration did what it thought was right and governed the way they thought was the best for the American people. Why? Because they won. Twice. Well, OK, just once.

Republicans have shown in recent years that they are a party of “winning” not “caring.” Democrats, on the other hand, appear like the doe-eyed job candidate, when asked about his biggest weakness and responds, “I care too much.” Now, the “care” party that was a laughingstock for 8 years is at the helm. However, their governing philosophy is different (or at least appears to be different). Democrats, and it seems to stem from the top, believe in discourse before display, thought before action. And this is their mistake.

If Democrats want health care reform, they need to just do it. Stop caring about the people. You have a majority. You have the White House. Make the pendulum swing to the left. It’s ok. If the nation can’t handle it, they’ll vote you out. But they won’t, at least not yet, because the alternative is worse.

Right now, it seems as if Americans don’t want to win, they don’t want to care…they want to live. And in order to live, they need their government to work. Whether it’s a large government (like Reagan or GWB’s) or a smaller government (like Clinton’s), it doesn’t matter. We just want our lives to be a bit better.

Health care is important, but there are too many variables: doctors, insurance companies, drug companies, lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, etc. It’s like The Wire, where everything is connected and it’s not just about drugs. We’ve proven time and again that we cannot have civil debate in this country; simply because we have the right to free speech doesn’t mean that you should show up to a presidential event with a gun.

Then again, we voted for change, didn’t we? We deserve this mess because we fell in love with an idea. We were mesmerized that someone would look us in the eye (OK, camera’s eye) and say that we need to have discourse, we need to have debates, we need to think before we do. And we loved it. Except when it came time to actually act.

We had no debate for the stimulus package. We just complained after it was passed, like the good Americans we are. So what we’ve learned is that for some things, it’s ok to debate and for other things, it’s OK for the government to just act.

Our nation is a giant contradiction, but a democracy we are not. Now, this is a simplistic missive. I understand that. I will never have as firm of a grasp on this stuff as I do for, say Yankees baseball. What I do know is that we’re at a crossroads: choose intelligent discussion and nothing will get done; choose immediate action, and the repercussions are inevitable.

Health care reform will come, and I hope it works. I hope that all the good that stems from health care reform comes true. But in the meantime, knowing that history says otherwise, I won’t hold my breath. Well, maybe for a little bit until I go see my doctor.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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