Compass: Our leaders need to rediscover the high road

By WALT MONEGANMarch 13, 2013 

Leaders, where are you? We search the political battlefield and only see skirmishes over minor issues that neither will break the deadlock nor move our society to healthier and safer ground. The vast majority sent by the electorate stands idly about watching others or is crouched low listening to their party advisers, but also do nothing.

Where are our champions; those that believe in something larger than themselves? Those men and women who had entered the arena to represent all of their constituents for those loftier ideals above those just red or blue. What if everyone in public service were so myopic and biased? Would you tolerate firefighters if they asked your political affiliation before attacking the fire in your home? Or would you sit quietly by if you knew that your mail carriers censored your mail before delivering it? And the 911 the operator who asks among all the other questions, what is your religion and race; how would you feel about that?

Yet our elected officials blatantly place the lesser loyalty to party over the greater loyalty to the community. Ironically, here in Alaska, according to the state Division of Elections' most recent data, 53 percent of the registered 506,434 voters are either nonpartisan or undeclared. Significant, because then the real majority of voters want representation that benefits them, not a party. The fact that here we count nearly twice the number of unaffiliated voters than that of the largest party should be indisputable testimony that most do not subscribe to any specific political dogma. Nevertheless, after their election to office party politicians assume they have some mandate to act on their party agenda. Little wonder our elections have low voter turnout.

Political partisanship has become a larger threat to the social and economic well-being of this society than any outside radical or militant group. Even in our most checkered past, those that cried "we" and those that cried "me" still found ways to balance the needs of the many with the rights of the one. Disturbingly the tone of today's rhetoric is hateful and uncompromising, like the arguments of drunkards. Ethics swept aside to support extreme political ideology conjures memories of history's darkest and most intolerant times. No need to name the despots, Reichs, or fanatic periods of inquisition; they haunt us still.

So what is it that makes these times so contentious? Or then again, is it really just about political differences? Our last Democratic president was embroiled in the processes of impeachment and special investigations yet had been able to move this country from a record deficit to a surplus. Our current Democratic president has no scandals, no special investigations, in fact nothing that derailed him from a successful re-election. Was there a clue when a Congressional member rudely yelled out "You lie!" during an address by this president?

History recorded that the delegates in Philadelphia argued through draft after draft before reaching the text we should treasure still. And sometimes it does take a little heat to forge an enduring document, but the fiery and sometimes vile debate we watch doesn't seem as focused on the issue as it is on the messenger. Almost everyone claims that it isn't about race; and for some that may be true. Uncomfortably, I am beginning to suspect that the real fire beneath this political storm is that President Obama is viewed as a threat to the comfort of "white privilege." If true, loosely apply Newton's Law that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction; or as I like to phrase: we tend to mirror what we encounter. Upset legislators cause others to be upset and the end result is frequently flaring emotions and partisan fighting.

So leaders please stand up for us, take some action -- even if it is only to act like a school teacher and walk over to the light switches within our hallowed halls to flip them on and off until order is resumed.

Walt Monegan is president of the Alaska Native Justice Center. He has served as Anchorage chief of police and as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

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