March Madness. The Big Dance. Many of us have been enjoying the annual NCAA tournament. The intensity of play during this time of year is unmatched. And true to its name, it can certainly be “maddening” if your team isn’t winning or your bracket is breaking. But even that makes it fun, doesn’t it? Watching a team completely destroy another isn’t nearly as enjoyable as watching a close game full of lead changes, a bad call here and there, and dramatic game winning shots. The Big Dance is about both cheering and yelling - winning and losing.
If I have the chance to select what to view on the household television, odds are that we’ll either have a game on or something political. I like watching sports, and I also enjoy following politics and being involved in political life.
Like March Madness, politics can also be full of “madness” and is downright aggravating at times. Like a great game, politics can be disappointing yet exhilarating, full of emotional swings resulting from both moments of setback and moments of glory.
Recent years have perhaps been more maddening than exciting, though. It seems we’ve allowed our system of politics to replace our system of government; that is, we’ve allowed our political parties and political elections to be the focus of our political culture instead of focusing on the process of policy making and the act of governing.
In politics, the game today is based on the election cycle, not the policy making process. Our culture has moved the game from governmental chambers to ballot boxes, but what do the winners achieve? Merely another opportunity to compete in the next election?
Political candidates certainly have to focus a portion of their attention on winning elections - but that’s when the real game should just be starting - that’s when the winners really go to work. And that’s not happening. Rather, the winning team gets the parade and victory lap while the loser goes back to find ways to oppose anything the winner wants to move forward between that loss and the next election cycle. So what’s not happening? Policy making. Compromise. In short, governing.
Political parties may be focusing on winning elections, we, the people, end up losing. If we belong to the winning party, we’ve been told we won, but what have we won? When “winners” proceed to narrowly pass legislation staunchly opposed by the “losing” party only to see those policies overturned once that balance of power shifts, then what have we truly won? What progress have we made?
Elections should be a means to an end - a means for electing people who govern - not a game that results in winners and losers who don’t do anything but campaign for the next election. Elections should be the way candidates punch their ticket to the real dance - the Big Dance - the dance of policy making - the dance of governing. That dance requires leadership, and leadership requires listening and learning - cooperation and compromise - give and take - mutual respect and a desire to work toward the common good. One party may lead the dance but the other parties are equally important to ensuring a successful outcome.
As important as it is to vote, it’s equally important to hold our elected officials accountable for action between elections. Even if the candidate you supported didn't win, you still have an elected official representing you. We can’t expect our lawmakers to work as a team if we don’t cheer them on and encourage them to engage in teamwork after taking office. Do you take the time to respectfully articulate your opinions on policy matters? Do you provide elected officials with both positive and negative feedback? Do you advocate for compromise? Do you express an expectation that lawmakers work for the common good? Do you let elected officials know that the Big Dance is what happens after the election?
Ultimately, our political culture mirrors our overall society and its culture. If we don't like what we see, than we have to identify what our part of the mess is. And that’s certainly something to think about.