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Warning Doctor Robinson

March 21, 2010

For a variety of reasons, I’ve found myself in the middle of a bunch of politicians. We been working together on a variety of things, all sorts of projects, for the good our our city. And universally, the persons I’ve been hanging with, both on the left and the right, seem to want the best for our city.

At the end of every meeting the conversation naturally turns to politics — who is in and who is out; who is an up and comer and who is on the outs. I’ve heard people complain about another candidate stealing their yard signs, and whether what another candidate is doing is personally directed at them or if there is a larger plan. These conversations, with politicians of all stripes at all levels, focus on a level of relationship that seems more in common with middle school than with professionals trying to reach a goal. It’s unbelievable how much “he said/she said” goes on, how much finger pointing and back biting, the level of energy and speech spent on things and are petty and insignificant.

Of course, when one tries to point this out, that stock answer is: “That’s how the game is played.”

“Yeah,” I know it’s stupid,” these folks say, “but you have to do it if you want to get elected.”

And that’s the problem that we face all up and down the political spectrum — the belief that this is somehow a game to be played, and that we are all simply actors in a game that has already been predetermined.

Warning! Warning! Warning Doctor Robinson!

Look folks, I know that the gamesmanship of the political process has been around since Cain attempted to win God’s vote over Abel. Yes, human relationships are a tricky thing, and politics is nothing if not the science of human relationships.

But the stuff we are dealing with is too important to be relegated to the level of game. The stuff of governance (the goal of those running for office) involves serious issues in the lives of individuals. Things like the various court clerk offices aren’t simply about who the most popular person is that is deserving of the six figure salary. No, ultimately the concern should be about who is best able to manage a staff of folks to make those places efficient and effective, best utilizing taxpayer dollars to ensure that the necessary services are provided in a timely and cost effective manner. There are often life and death issues at stake, with human outcomes based on the ability of an office to deliver certain papers when needed. This is stuff that is far more important than a game. This is the stuff of life.

It’s the gamesmanship that leads the public to be skeptical of government today, and which drives the Tea Party and other movements to want to throw the bums out. And yet, simply throwing out the existing crew doesn’t fix the problem when the underlying structure of politics as a game simply puts another group of people in power who subscribe to the same values and modes of operation as the old guys. The problem is not people, it’s structure, mindset, or whatever else you want to call it. It’s a failure to recognize how serious what we are dealing with is, and a willingness to treat the process of election and governance with the utmost respect for what one is doing.

Yes, I will probably continue to play the game at some level in order to get things done in the world. That’s the hand I’ve been dealt, and at some level I have to play it if I want to see good things happen.

And like all the rest, I perpetuate a system that will eventually implode upon itself.

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