Spring in Washington and Sacramento sees scenes reminiscent of ancient Rome and its provinces, as thousands of advocates from an astounding variety of interest groups come to speak with their representatives. The state and federal budget processes have shifted into high gear, and university presidents are among those who travel to our capitals to renew relationships and make the case for continuing partnerships. Advocates come in large groups, wait in long lines, and have all-too-brief discussions to pressure and persuade, to argue against threatening proposals and to speak for advantageous ones.
Beneath this controlled chaos, there is much more than meets the eye or conforms to a cynic’s view of our democracy. In contrast to contemporary characterizations of our elected representatives, I come away each year impressed by the character and commitment of our representatives in Washington and Sacramento. Our San Diego representatives are overall charismatic, compassionate, supportive of our military and eager to address our national challenges in economic development and health care.
Even when in passionate disagreement, our representatives are in good faith attempting to balance the specific needs of their constituents against the broader interests of our country and our state. Our hope for the future of our state and nation lies in this latter capacity – as our representatives seek solutions to our fundamental challenges.
Washington and Sacramento are cities ruled by mood, and subtly – almost imperceptibly – the mood is changing. Amidst frustration with demagoguery and partisan politics, there are quiet sentiments that echo the past greatness of our nation’s collaborative decision-making – our efforts to “make the world safe for democracy,” end the Great Depression, win the second World War, and root out legalized segregation.
There is a realization – again, a quiet one – that it is time for our representatives to have the courage to clarify rather than politicize and the courage to address our societal challenges in precise and comprehensive terms rather than criticize by creating caricatures. In short, there is an understanding that one may have to risk one’s own political position, even in an election year, to work with colleagues in addressing our challenges. While such collaborative approaches are often identified as reflecting the art of compromise, they are more about making the right decisions for the sake of the whole, irrespective of political ideologies or litmus tests.
As citizens in a democracy, it is our responsibility to nurture this collaborative spirit. We must let our representatives know that we recognize our fundamental challenges – be they the budget deficit, the solvency of Social Security, the need to provide education to our diverse population or the spiraling cost of health care – and that we support their efforts to find stable, principled, comprehensive approaches in the near future. We must let our representatives know that meeting these challenges is our highest priority, and we will support them for doing so. Within this framework, all good things are possible, including the future greatness of our nation and our state.