Sunday, November 05, 2006

America The Beautiful

Having been off the bike for a medical issue, I recently had some time to reflect on my many hours and miles on the roads of this beautiful country. I am sometimes asked, "what is the best thing you saw on the road?" I have experimented with a few different answers to that question, but I recently settled on one. My answer is, "America". Some people can accept that answer, but the more inquisitive people want to know specifically what it is about America that I am thinking about. That question is harder to answer with a single word or sentence. I guess that is the point of a somewhat open-ended answer. The answer changes given the nature of the conversation or the presence of a particularly fresh memory, but it always comes back to the American experience. With the election coming up, I started thinking about the importance of government in the American experience. So, I'm thinking out loud about the election...

If you had to define the essence of America in a single word, what would it be? "Democracy" would be a pretty good answer. Democracy in America has flourished for over 200 years, persevering through some pretty difficult times, including our own Civil War. We are, without a doubt, the most successful democracy in human history. And not in any simple way. We have, over the short course of our history, often led the world on a variety of issues. From economics, to education, to art and culture.

Why has America been so successful? I believe it is because the architects of our country carefully designed a system of government that was resistant to the occasional failings of its participants. Our founding fathers knew that the biggest asset in a democracy was its people. But they also knew that the biggest danger to a democratically governed society would be government itself.

The basic design of American democracy, and the fundamental reason for its success, is rooted in the separation of governmental power. It is the separate accountability of three branches of government, and the rules that delicately balance power among them, that have driven our success. Through this system, our democracy has survived countless moments of human weakness, both individual and collective, to keep the American dream alive.

But, while resistant to trangression, our system of goverment is not immune to it. The balance of power is delicate, and its survival requires that Americans understand and respect it. Sadly, Americans seem to be losing sight of the fragility and delicacy of our wonderfully unique democracy. Voter turnout is low. Policy awareness is even lower. Politicians seem to care little about balance and fairness. Almost every debate has become an unprincipled fight to the death between two parties -- with both sides taking intellectually and morally deficient positions. Most disturbingly, and of gravely immediate concern, is the progressive failure of Congress to operate as a body of independent thought, power, and accountability.

Two-party politics is on the verge of supplanting our delicate democracy. Politicians with party agendas, and their voters who offer them blind loyalty, have turned their backs on America. The problem exists at all levels of government, but is acutely infectious in our current Congress. Blind party loyalty has effectively eliminated the open-minded debate that is so crucial to the continued health of our country. Rather than serving Americans, politicians are serving themselves – attempting to ensure re-election by turning off their consciences and selling out to their party.

And the disease is spreading. Leaders of all stripes, in all age groups, all levels of government, and private enterprise, are taking cues from their government. The government that WE THE PEOPLE voted into power. Across the board, America's leaders are losing their focus on the enormous importance of independent thought, honesty, frugality, and ethical action. This is the example we are setting for ourselves, for our children, and for our international peers.

So who is at fault? Everyone, I suppose, although everyone will have an excuse. For my generation, maybe it was growing up during the greedy 80s and being raised by absentee parents. I'm not sure what excuse the older generation (many of whom are in the most powerful positions in America) can lay claim to. Maybe it was the drugs. Or Vietnam. It’s a mystery to me. Can we change? Can the younger generations see past the failings of their elders to grasp and love America for what is was meant to be? They have had few quality role models to follow, but one can still hope.

Whatever our individual reasons for losing sight of America, we can still act. We can all wake up and reacquaint ourselves with the system of government that built this country into the amazing place that it is. It is every American’s responsibility to bear witness to the unchecked erosion of accountability that is destroying our government. Left unchecked, this erosion will continue to damage all of our institutions and slowly destroy the everyday things that we love about life in America.

There are, of course, some people in America who are satisfied with the current situation. To those people, I would ask you to please consider what the future may bring as presidents and Supreme Court justices, of both parties, are rotated though the system unchecked by Congress. I fear that what we will get is a cyclical assault of increasingly extreme and incompatible policies. The result being a steady descent toward a perverse blend of fascism and welfare statehood.

This Tuesday, we all need to put aside our emotional attachment to the self-serving policies that we normally vote for. Namely, those policies that protect our personal short-term interests at the expense of the long-term health of our government, culture, and society. This congressional election is not about Iraq, abortion, gay marriage, or taxes. This congressional election is about the American people insisting that the legislative branch of our government operate in an independent, fair, and accountable manner.

Most citizens of America still have the right to vote, and thus, we are still directly accountable for the integrity of our government. So let's all get out and vote. Not for our taxes, love, hate, religion, or politics. Let's get out and vote for America.

P.S. Miles This Year: 7352