Reclaiming Politics: Solving Problems Washington Won’t
Isn’t the whole national political scene just so depressing?
Our politicians have lost the capacity to govern. Congress resembles a UN meeting—more showplace than workplace, where assemblies and debates are ritualized reenactments and individual showmen and sound bites are more important than the larger political process. Members of Congress are unable to devote the focused attention and consistent effort that long-term social and economic challenges require.
The exhaustion of our politics is evident in the election campaign. Runners call it “hitting the wall.” It’s the moment in a race, sometimes well before the finish line, when energy and momentum drain away. Both presidential campaigns—candidates, surrogates, and messages—have nothing substantive left to offer voters. Both sides are made up of ideological sprinters, quick off the starting line but gasping for breath when the race runs longer than a cable news interview and they are forced to offer actual details on how they will govern or what they hope to accomplish.
Many will stay glued to their televisions for the debates, but I have decided to turn mine off. Instead, I’m taking the time to think about all of the constructive developments in community organizing that have occurred during this electoral season. There is politics outside Washington, a vital and vigorous alternative to the stale performances of our two main parties.
In June Massachusetts passed the nation’s first health care cost-containment bill—a target for reducing the Commonwealth’s health care expenses. This follows the 2006 passage of a bill that made Massachusetts the first state with nearly universal health care. One organizer who worked on this issue, Cheri Andes, first learned of the challenges and opportunities of health care politics and economics in Chicago, where she worked for an Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) citizens group, United Power for Action and Justice, to expand health care access and help uninsured college graduates stay on their parents’ plans.