No, I'm not talking about that
"right." I mean, he's correct.
Don't get me wrong. When it comes to politics, I suspect that Mr. Westlund -- who was a marginal Republican at best, and shed his party label recently with the announcement that he'll run for Oregon's governor as an independent -- and I disagree on a variety of topics.
But he's right that the state of politics in Oregon, just like much of the nation, is dysfunctional.
The blogosphere, in many cases, is both a result of that dysfunction and a contributor to it. How many times have you read a blog that not just disagrees with someone, but accuses that person of lying about the subject at hand? Maybe it's not just coincidence that after I started collecting thoughts for this post, the inestimable Jack Bogdanski implemented Nice Week
at his blog, saying "We've gotten too negative again, people."
For example A of Blogosphere Dysfunction, go read the comments
on this post
at Northwest Republican. Here's just one entry, about Jason Atkinson's alleged comments on immigration (bad language alert):
Jason Atkinson DID blame America. Not only that, but he went on and on about how poor and unprivledged the poor illegal aliens are and so we have to understand their plight blah blah blah. No I don't have to. This is the same argument we hear about other criminals from liberals...it isn't their fault, their mom raped them and their dad drank too much and they come from a bad neighborhood and its the system's fault. It's the same crap we hear about terrorists...oh, they don't have power so in order to rage against injustice in their land, they don't have military might, so they had to fly planes into our buildings and blow up our soldiers. Bullshit. They are adults. Either you respect the rules, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, or you don't. Am I sorry that Mexico is a shithole? Yes. But you know, in America, when our country needed to be lifted out of a morass, we had patriots who dumped their own blood out on the ground to make it happen. Mexicans need to do the same.
So no, Jason Atkinson, I am not going to be moved to think I am at fault for their unwillingness to follow our laws, or to fight the good fight in Mexico to help lift their neighbors out of poverty.
He most certainly blamed us, and that guy who stood up and called bullshit on him was dead on right to do so.
Of course, it's broader than the blogs. Read here
about how someone in the audience stood up and hollered at Jason Atkinson for his comments. Take in a few letters to the editor. Go listen to talk radio for a few minutes -- on the left or the right -- and see how long it takes before at least one person is yelling.Leonard Pitts
of the Miami Herald thinks it's because people don't actually put any thought into their arguments -- they just spout the latest (take your choice) DNC
talking points and proclaim them as God's truth:
It's increasingly the case that there's no such thing as the truth. Rather, we have truths, separate but equal. We choose the one we need, based on which best validates our preferred worldview. We get these truths from radio talk shows and Internet forums that manufacture them according to our political alliances and warn in dire tones against trusting truth that comes from ideologically impure sources.
Now we have designer facts, facts that aren't facts but that gain currency because somebody wanted to believe them. The thing is, facts that really are facts, truth that really is true, doesn't always validate your beliefs. Sometimes it challenges and confounds them. That's probably the problem.
I agree with Pitts from the standpoint that sometimes truth is too messy to completely validate your perspective, though I'll add that Pitts doesn't allow for someone to be misinformed -- he assumes the misinformation is deliberate maliciousness.
Pitts is also stuck in a pre-internet Mainstream Media mindset when he suggests that previous generations had a better grasp on the truth, asking, "Where have you gone, Walter Cronkite?" Pitts seems to assume the longtime CBS newsman set the standard for truthfulness, when he really set the standard for a news monopoly that disseminated its version of truth, regardless of whether it was any more accurate than today's version.
There is an argument to be made that different political parties -- with distinctly different visions about the future -- are a healthy thing. That idea becomes moot, however, when the game of politics becomes one of "gotcha," one of screaming about the other's alleged failings instead of highlighting our own beliefs.
We also have to ask the question: who keeps putting these politicians in office? It's the voters, silly! If the elected are sitting at the extreme reaches of the political spectrum, what does that say for the electorate?
People like Westlund think the reason is that primaries "elect the most democratic Democrats and the most republican Republicans and then we send them all to Salem and wonder why they can’t get along." As a solution, he and Phil Keisling are pushing the Open Primary
idea, which would eliminate primaries by political party, lump everyone into the same primary and take the top two vote-getters for the November general election. Westlund thinks this will put "ideas before ideology and people before politics."
I agree that something has to be done, though I'm more than a little wary of this idea. In statewide elections in blue Oregon, I fear two liberals would win, effectively disenfranchising conservatives, and the contest would be one of name familiarity instead of ideas. (Of course, one might ask how that's different from the current setup.) If such a system were in place this year, there would be at least
11 people on the gubernatorial ballot, which is too many names to provide any opportunity for evaluating perspectives -- the top two vote getters would probably be Ted Kulongoski and Ron Saxton, the people with the best name recognition, not the people with the best ideas.
Sure, it would help the legislature work better together -- just like the Multnomah County Commission, which fights not over conservative vs. liberal ideas, but over who can out-stupid the other.
(See, I'm not exempt from the dysfunction -- I just called the Multnomah County Commissioners "stupid." Not that I'm backing away from that label.)
Much of the problem with the state's political dysfunction, I think, has to do with the leadership displayed by the inhabitant of Mahonia Hall. The current governor, Kulongoski, has been a no-show in this regard; his leadership -- any leadership! -- could have pushed the legislature to greater accomplishments. The previous governor, John Kitzhaber, was known as Dr. No because of his unwillingness to work with the Republican-controlled legislature. He simply vetoed bill after bill throughout his eight years.
I think Westlund has a good argument that an independent governor might more easily work with both sides of the aisle than someone with an R or a D next to his name, though I think that argument fails with Westlund because he's a former Republican, so Democrats don't completely trust him, and he was never a strong Republican, so conservatives don't completely trust him.
This idea of leadership from the state's chief executive is one of the reasons I like Jason Atkinson
-- yes, he's a conservative (and yes, that's one of the reasons I like him). But he has a perspective that looks for solutions to problems, rather than pointing fingers. He shares the weariness that Oregonians feel toward politics as usual. And frankly, after 20 years of Democrat governors, it's time to look elsewhere.
That leadership from the governor has to include some recognition that both sides of the table bring legitimate concerns. It has to include a willingness on the part of legislators to hear the concerns of Oregonians -- separate from the screams of the special interests -- and work to find solutions. Among the things I'd like to hear:
- Healthcare may not be a "right," but its importance cannot be underestimated for those who don't have it.
- Oregonians voted against same-sex marriage and their desires should not be trampled by Basic Rights Oregon and its allies, but that doesn't mean it's appropriate to marginalize the humanity of gays and lesbians.
- Ditto for illegal immigrants.
- Taxes are not (and should not be) the end-all and be-all solution to society's problems and government must gain a common-man understanding of the burden that taxation places on families, but that doesn't mean there is no place for taxation in society.
- Government workers should not be figuratively burned at the stake for the name on their paychecks or the provider of their benefits, but neither should they receive sweetheart deals that the private sector never dreams about, much less receives.
- There is a place for common-sense land-use laws, but government should never forget that a man's home is his castle and there are very few reasons for the government to have more say over its use than the owner.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
Yes, this is for you, Kate Brown, Peter Courtney & Jeff Merkley. Oh, and you too, Ted Ferrioli, Karen Minnis & Wayne Scott. (Not to mention Bill Frist, Harry Reid, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi.)
Are you listening? Oregon is eager to hear your answer.