Eugene T. Paslov: The ugly face of a partisan Congress
For the Nevada Appeal
I am a great fan of Jon Meacham, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography (“American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House”) and editor of Newsweek magazine. In addition to his historical writings, Meacham is a reputable philosopher and scholar. His insights are always informative.
Meacham’s Newsweek column on March 8 stopped me in my tracks. Titled “We Are All Co-Conspirators Now,” it begins, “It is the truth of the hour: Washington – or if you prefer, ‘the system’ – is in extremis, trapped in a depressing cycle of partisan dysfunctionality…” He goes on to say that we the people are the co-conspirators, and “Washington is not an abstraction but a mirror. Our political life is a reflection of who we are, no matter how unattractive we may find the image looking back at us.”
I had been in the middle of expressing anger at Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., for blocking unemployment benefits and highway construction projects. When asked what Bunning thought would be the consequences, he told his colleague, “I don’t give a s—.” He went on to say he had to miss a basketball game in order to block this bill on a weekend night. I was angry at the thoughtlessness – the ignorance – of Sen. Bunning.
But Meacham reminded me that we are all responsible; we looked in the mirror and “We the People” reflected back this ugly image.
As the son of an immigrant Russian Jew and a student of history, I learned that our government was an instrument of “We the People.” I knew it wasn’t perfect, it had flaws, but it was one of the best in the world for serving us. If Meacham is correct (and most Americans don’t want the things that benefit them to change) then we must help people understand that having 30 million-plus people without health care does not benefit them.
President Roosevelt began reshaping government (after Wall Street helped bring it to a near collapse) as an instrument to attack the Depression with public works, Social Security and many other programs to protect citizens. Government was a trusted instrument of the people.
In recent years that trust has eroded. How do we regain it – universal health care, jobs and regulations to protect us from toxic finances? We need to take responsibility for change, for trusting and participating in our democratic system of governance. Government must once again become the instrument for helping the country, a positive and trustworthy tool for “We the People.”
• Eugene Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.