Kentucky voices: Citizens must take responsibility for our government

January 18, 2013 

We narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff. Our nation's credit rating still hangs in the balance. We continue to face economic catastrophe with a looming debate on the debt ceiling. This is all in addition to the gun crisis, and I am not sure but, is there still a "war on women?"

Welcome to the 21st-century of politics, where statesmanship and governance are quaint historical concepts and politics is all there is.

Governance today is tilting at windmills, pitting one side against another and manufacturing an enemy for you to attack. Parties now run full-time — not just during elections — and the status quo is constantly playing politics. Reflection, wisdom, principles and ideals — these are things of a far-distant past.

The goal today is not to fix a problem but to fixate on a problem. The media follows the same pattern — treating daily news like a campaign rather than anything that resembles journalism.

Historically, you would have been able to find two camps of people. Examining the two extremes, first are short-term pragmatists doing whatever it takes to fix a crisis. These people are usually reactionary and desire more rapid or precipitous change.

In the other camp is principled realism; these individuals represent the most idealistic views and their focus is not necessarily what is currently happening but promotion of change for future states.

Ideally, what should occur is a healthy balance of these two camps with governance principled and considered. When real immediate problems occur, the short-term pragmatism would kick in and do what it takes to solve the emergency. Then when the crisis ended and normalcy returned, what you would see would be a shift from short-term pragmatism back to the principled realism.

By contrast, today the crises intentionally never end and neither does the campaigning. Instead of winning the campaign and then settling down to governing with principled realism, the status quo never stops creating a crisis and running for office. What has replaced principled realism is a permanent campaign.

We have followed suit and become a society of crisis pragmatists looking to be saved. Few any longer have faith in long-term principled realism. We have been caught in a trap of either expecting someone else to fix things or accepting the vision they provide for us. We look up to politicians as rock stars, and celebrate "getting ahead" as being part of the system. We lay our trust and our future in the hands of the system and that one party can save us from the other.

The answer must become that we do not just elect a different leader, but we become a self-governing leader. The answer is not in "R's" and "D's" but "you's" and "I's."

We have had an energy crisis, an economic crisis, a housing crisis, a war on terror and a war on drugs, and the solution is always the same thing — government.

The truth is quite the opposite. The more severe the crisis, the more we need a return to principles. Short-term pragmatism may hopefully fix a current crisis, but unless a new generation of principled realism arises, the crisis will continue to mount and the cycle will never be broken. Unless we have independent critical thinking, we will never have liberty. If we truly revere the Founding Fathers and celebrate what they have done, we need to look less urgently on the manufactured crises used to distract us and more on the realities we face.

The question is: Do Americans value our freedom enough to end the rise of the aristocracy by becoming self-governing leaders ourselves? Will we rise, as Thomas Jefferson predicted, to be the natural aristocracy over which no despot could rule? Will we step up to our responsibilities as citizens and claim our role as the overseers of government (not the other way around)?

Eric Wilson of Georgetown is executive director for Kentucky 9/12 Project and co-author of "We Surround Them; Our Journey From Apathy to Action."

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