An Open Letter to America

August 9, 2011

I try to hold my tongue on the so-called big issues: politics, government, economy.  Many vocalize their opinions; few are actually interested in the opinions of others.

But it seems America needs a word of advice.  After another round of political wrangling that made an important issue (the debt ceiling) into a political football, someone (Standard & Poor) finally called out our politicians for acting like adolescents.  And once again the country believes that Washington is an unfixable mess.

So, ludicrous as this may seem, here’s my decidedly un-expert, unsolicited advice.

Don’t Panic

Everyone else profits when we panic.  Politicians want us to panic.  A panicked electorate votes.  The media wants us to panic.  A panicked audience tunes in.  Wall street wants us to panic.  Day traders have likely already made millions this week.

What are we panicked for?  We think our politicians sold out in pointless compromise?  We think the economy will tank (some more)?  In all likelihood, our lives aren’t going to change all that much from the recent brouhaha.  (Okay dad, unless you scheduled your entire 401k distribution for this past Monday.)

Is there anything we can actually do with our panic?  We can’t vote for anyone tomorrow.  We can’t write a letter of apology to Standard & Poor and get our credit rating back.

So stop.  Take a breath.  And think about the things that we can do to help this not happen again.

Vote for Sensible People

If we want to have responsible, flexible, intelligent and efficient government, then we need to have responsible, flexible, intelligent and efficient people in charge of it.  Strangely, none of those adjectives has any connection to ideology.  (I would wager that if one honestly thinks through the people one knows who are good at their job, pleasant to work with and generally competent, one will find that they hold a variety of ideological views.)

The first thing I believe one should do in the voting booth is to refuse to vote a party line ticket.  Voting for either party line, in my opinion, is the surest way to put senseless people in charge of our country.  Just because someone shares my opinion on a handful of issues does not make them sensible, practical, intelligent person.

Ideology is only ever useful in a vacuum.  Ideology believes that the world would be a better place if everyone thought the same way.  But we will never all think alike.  We will always be divided on issues that are important to us.  Any government that represents only one ideology is all but guaranteed to be overturned in the next election.

My local newspaper ran a series of questions and answers from candidates in the last election.  I read them.  Anyone who sounded senseless or was beholden to the interests of a few was knocked off of my list.  Mine was a split ballot.  And, to my way of thinking, it was the only sensible ballot I could turn in.

Vote in Small Elections

The most important time to vote is in elections for our local representatives.  The next candidate for governor or U.S. representative, senator or president will have risen through the ranks of mayors, city-council members, state representatives and sheriffs.  If we want better government, we should weed out the senseless people before they get a bigger stage, a bigger microphone and more money to advertise with.

Turn Off Your Television

Click play below and then read this.  (It’s a great scene that takes a while to get started.)  In the 1987 film Broadcast News, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) is a reporter for a national network.  Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is a producer that Aaron would like to be more than friends with.  Tom Grunick (William Hurt) is the airheaded anchor that Holly Hunter has fallen for.   Tom had helped Aaron get ready to anchor the weekend news (Aaron was a flop).

Where do you get your news?  How much is flash?  How much is substance?  Is it possible that politics in Washington is about as mature as pro wrestling because that’s what we tune in for?

In 2011, we expect to be entertained while we get our news.  We expect those who disagree with our ideology to be demonized.  We expect those who agree with us to be exalted.  And yet we expect the important issues of government and finance to somehow be sensibly and correctly solved at the end of the day.

The more we allow politics to pander to us, the more we see it as entertainment—a gladiatorial fight to the death on a national stage—the more we will get just that.  And politics that is seen as a game will never be able to work effectively.

So my advice is to find and frequent better, more reputable, more objective sources for news.  If we want politicians to act rationally and responsibly, we shouldn’t be watching for them between funny home videos and reality shows.

(Here’s a hint: if your news source regularly tells you that other news sources are biased and disreputable, then there is a high likelihood that your news source is biased and disreputable.)

Be Patient

We like to believe that we can save the country or the world tomorrow.  We’ve grown up solving problems in a half hour on sitcoms.  We believe that Washington’s problems can be solved overnight—so we vote the bastards out.  We become convinced that a different ideology will fix the issue.

Similar to voting the party line, a knee-jerk reaction to take any alternative to the status quo is a recipe for senseless government.  Make your next vote for the candidate who is more sensible and intelligent, whether that’s the incumbent or the newcomer.

I would highly recommend the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life – The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.  In it, Dr. Maurer sites innumerable situations where someone started a change for the better by taking the smallest step possible.  The book talks about the huge effort and huge resistance in making quantum leaps to solve our problems.  These are contrasted with the tiny effort to make the smallest change possible in order to start moving toward our goals.

What’s the smallest thing I can do to create a better leadership culture in Washington?  What’s the smallest thing I can do to not see politics as entertainment?

Maybe I could post a blog entry about it.



  1. Nice!!

  2. Thanks Cass, glad you like it.

  3. Good points

  4. Thanks for reading!

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