The Problem with Politics

The campaign advertisements of late are awful. “We need campaign finance reform,” some are saying. Well, maybe we do, but I had a conversation this week that reflects what’s more wrong with politics in America than the influence of money.

The conversation was with a person I know, but not well. The person was an out of work laborer at the former GM plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. To my knowledge, this person had no post-secondary education. Really nice person. We’d never talked politics specifically, but if I were to guess and bet money on it, I’d say he is a Democrat.

I asked him about his prospects for work now that the plant in Spring Hill is gearing back up.  He told me he was “in the pool,” but the job opportunity “wasn’t like in the past.” Eighteen dollars an hour was about the best to be expected when, before, it was “$23 an hour and free health care. I can’t afford heath insurance now. I don’t know why we can spend so much on bombs when people here don’t have health care.

It was here the conversation changed. I nicely and gently said, “I agree we spend too much money on some things and spend money on some things we shouldn’t, but actually, you won’t ever have free health care and you really never had free health care even back when you were working. I was just paying for it instead of you.”

The look of surprise told me to press on, so I explained, “There’s nothing ever free. I paid for your health care through what I paid for the cars you made.  But it got to where I, and thousands of others, just weren’t going to pay but a certain amount for a car. The company had to find a way to pay for your health care so I guess one of the things they did was start using more plastics. Right?”

His head nodded affirmatively. “But I still refused to pay more,“ I continued. ”So when other costs went up and I still wouldn’t pay more, the company made you start paying for your health care.  So, you see, it was never free.  You just didn’t have to pay for it for a long time.  And for the same reason, there isn’t any free government health care either. Except this time you and I are paying for the health care others are getting that you can’t afford now.”

He shook his head back and forth, looked at me and said, “Now why don’t politicians just explain it that way to us? That makes sense.”

It does makes sense. And he asked a great question. That politicians don’t “explain it that way” is what’s wrong with American politics. Here’s the problem as I see it.

First, some politicians themselves don’t understand what I explained to this person. They can’t explain what they don’t understand.

Second, some politicians who do understand don’t want people like this person to know the truth. It might cost the politician the person’s vote. Let the voters keep thinking that there’s free health care out there to be had, and that I’m the one to provide it to them.

Third, you can’t tell the truth in 30 seconds, at least not in a way that makes the truth apparent. That’s important because if you don’t show up on a television screen, then to many voters you’re not a real candidate. To those voters, television is reality.

But sound bites work for what I think is the fourth reason. Our educational system and our churches have failed far too many of us. They have not helped train our minds to really think, making us captive to mushy-headed thinking. We are susceptible to and, sadly, content with jargon-filled explanations on television and in glossy mail pieces  What I explained to this person should be something that any high school graduate should know or have the ability to figure out.

I don’t think we’re going to fix our political system simply by more campaign finance reform. We’ll fix it only when we fix our churches and our educational system so that they teach us that truth really does exist and then train our minds to seek out the truth. Perhaps then we won’t be as readily taken captive by the slick sound bites that campaign funds buy.