Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fighting for the Past

In thinking about all the issues swirling around our national political discussion (yes, discussion is a generous term), I think I've stumbled upon one of the root causes of our collective inability to work together across political divides, and to increasingly distrust each others' political perspectives:

The direction we're fighting over.

Over time, as America has come off it's "high" of being the King of the World (big economy, big military, big values, big promises, big opportunities, never-ending optimism), we find ourselves increasingly engaged in ideological arguments about whose fault it all is. 

This is not surprising.  When someone you know loses a job, they tend to find all of the external reasons why it happened, and construct a narrative that essentially makes them a victim of other people's decisions.  This way, the victim is not solely at fault for their own demise -- it was someone else's policies and decisions that created the environment for their demise.

So, in American politics, as we see our structures of success underwhelming us one by one, we all create narratives that help ensure ourselves that our political beliefs are the victim of the others' policies.  In other words, what has changed in America is that instead of two political perspectives competing for mind-share around which vision can enable the best future of America, we are now engaged in a debate around whose perspective is responsible for the our slow, insidious decline.  True, the argument is still couched in "best for the future" language, but what's right beneath this rhetoric are thought leaders angling for blame for what's created our decline. 

This fight to define the past is quite different than the traditional fight for whose philosophy will define the future. 

Fighting to define the past is ugly, because it's a battle for blame.  Blame doesn't improve GDP.  Blame doesn't reduce the deficit.  Blame only lets one stand atop the battered shoulders of others.  The winner of a blame game is merely the winningest of losers.

It will take true leadership -- leadership that has so far been lacking in both Democratic and Republican circles -- to get us beyond the blame game, and to get us focusing on what the best version of the future can be for a country as we enter a new period of our country's life.