In reading a few stories out of Washington the past week or so, I’ve been getting the sinking feeling that some things never change. Recent stories have mentioned Obama’s pep rally with senior staffers implying that Obama is working to move the White House past petty politics. For me, the first 18 months of the Obama administration confirms that Obama’s struggle against “business as usual” is much more difficult than he thought it would be and implies that politics may never change.
I’m using that word to mean campaigning, public relations, media relations, public opinion, legislative debates and some governing. The Bush and Obama administrations seem to have created a greater divide in our political landscape. I feel naïve to imagine a world where politics doesn’t resemble a WWE segment. And I blame both parties.
Without being too melodramatic, I think hundreds, if not thousands, of people have imagined a more intelligent, less confrontational political debate but avoided politics altogether because its seen as petty and egotistical. Is it? For someone considering a life in public service, public policy, and/or politics, should I expect the worst? It feels depressing to simply say that politics will never change and then avoid any attempt to change it. On the other hand, Obama starts down the road to change our political culture only to find obstacles at every turn. Considering both the candidate’s perspective and the inner circle of advisors, politics has become fundraising and messaging. Almost exclusively.
It would be inaccurate to pretend like basic human emotions and motivations haven’t been in politics since the Greeks named it over 2,000 years ago. It’s always been down and dirty. I suspect that has something to do with the power and influence that accompany political office. With that said, what’s the future? Will technology and transparency help force politicians become more open and honest? Or will the tactics of fear, smear and stereotypes continue to dominate?
Many people say to me, “I wish politics didn’t have to be this way,” but in the next moment, admit “but its not like its gonna change.” We all seem to individually want a change but collectively cannot unite to make it happen. So, on one hand, it’s naïve to imagine that anyone can elevate the national conversation beyond soundbites and juvenile insults. On the other hand, everyone is quietly wishing that it will change. More than anything at this point, politics means finding satisfaction in a series of small changes. In fact, it’s much more about branding an idea and embodying a message than dramatic changes to society and culture.
This idea has convinced me that expectations are key and realism is overrated. Approaching cultural challenges by assuming they’ll never change is a guarantee to get us nowhere. Politics has become increasingly bitter, divided and stalled. That seems like a cultural challenge to me. Now, if I could just figure out what to do about it.