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King: Blame the system, ourselves, not politicians

POSTED: August 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Sometimes I pick up the newspaper, turn to the opinion page, and read the last line of a column or letter to the editor first, just to figure out where the writer wants to take me. The last sentence of a recent column in the Atlanta papers certainly got my attention.

"Damn, but I despise politicians."

Whoa. What brought that on?

I started at the beginning and read a long rant against international intervention and foreign aid. Apparently the writer thinks the U.S. should keep its money at home and its nose out of other country’s business. The reason it doesn’t, he says, is because the people in Washington are egotistic, globe-trotting idiots who haven’t read the Constitution.

Wait just a minute. Where did these politicians come from? We’re a democracy. We elected them, didn’t we? If we don’t like them, why do we keep them in office?

I am not about to debate this particular columnist. In fact, occasionally his points made sense, but damning all politicians or the government in general is pointless and counterproductive.

Individually, most of the men and women in government are fairly conscientious people. At least let’s give them credit for starting out that way. Washington may be a mess, but it’s more the problem of the system than the people.

If we really do send egotistical idiots to Washington, let’s try to figure out why. Could it be a two-party system that treats political campaigns like sporting events and candidates like gladiators?

Or maybe we don’t have an educated populace, voters who understand the finer points of economics and foreign policy, and so we’re fooled by promises and political rhetoric.

Perhaps we can put the blame on the media. Why not? Everybody likes to damn the liberal press or conservative talk shows.

But whatever the medium, media is a business. For the most part, it supports itself through advertising. Whether it’s newspapers, magazines or TV, their owners try to give the public what it wants so the paper, magazine or TV station can increase its audience and more advertisers will buy space and sell more stuff to consumers.

The point is the public has to take some responsibility when democracy fails, and democracy is failing when the public has become so divided that they spend more time fighting each other than trying to correct some serious faults in the system.

We have a mortgage crisis on our hands. What went wrong?

Near as I can figure out, people borrowed money so they could live above their means, and the banks lent it to them because they were in competition with other banks that were doing the same thing. No one did anything illegal. No one broke the rules because there weren’t any, or at least very few. They only thing they violated was common sense.

If this is a reasonable assessment of the current situation, responsibility lies with (1), the people who took out the loans, and (2), the banks who lent them the money. But if in both cases the individuals involved were playing within the rules, the system is to blame.

Back to politics: We have a runoff coming up a week from today.

Among other matters, the runoff will decide who faces Sen. Saxby Chambliss in November, but the only people who can make that decision are those who voted a Democratic ballot in the July 15 primary.

However, this is a Republican state, and although many Republicans are dissatisfied with Chambliss and would like to see a change, they may be faced with a candidate they like even less then Chambliss come November.

The runoff will pit Jim Martin against Vernon Jones.

Jones had enough hard-core supporters to come in second in the primary, but he also carries enough baggage to make him a bad choice to represent Georgia in the Senate for the next six years.

Jones probably can’t win in the general election, but if he wins the Democratic runoff next week, he will have sabotaged any hope for change in Congress.

Once again the system has deprived the voter of a real choice. There are other ways to hold a democratic election, but the two political parties have too much invested in the present system to initiate change.

If we are unhappy with the way the country is going, we need to stop blaming politicians and begin looking at the political structure itself.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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