Saturday, December 15, 2012

After #Newtown, Where are the Pragmatists?

After the violent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many Americans are asking the same questions asked so many times before. We've asked them after similar events at Paducah, Denver, Blacksburg, and Aurora... and so many other sites of violence across the country. We've asked them for years and decades and generations.

Many Americans ask why no one saw this coming; why certain weapons are commonly available; what failures of law permitted these events; whether a particular door should have been better fortified; whether failures of counseling and mental health services played a role; whether a parent or teacher or friend didn't take the right actions when confronted by a disturbed young person.  And these are all reasonable questions deserving real answers.

The most important question is this: what ails our leadership, that we should find ourselves yet again unable to take even the most tentative steps toward solutions. Traumatized on the national scale yet again, why will we again deny ourselves that most potent therapy of taking some steps... any steps... toward solutions.

Fundamentally, ours is a failure of national leadership, and that weakness afflicts almost every current issue of our politics. Our anti-leaders fervently stake out wildly disparate positions that truly evoke our worst history- the dark times when we even contemplated separating ourselves permanently from discussion. Many of our media seem to delight and profit from this display. One party steadfastly asserts the social rights, almost to the complete exclusion of individual responsibility; the other asserts the individual rights, almost to the complete exclusion of social responsibility. Most of us, somewhere in between, wonder if it's really so difficult for a modern American politician to walk and chew gum at the same time.

In fact, most Americans are quite moderate in our thinking. Most of us are pragmatic. Most try to be good citizens. Reflecting on our finest accomplishments as a country, we speak with pride about a specially American "can do" attitude and ability to "get it done." And we have an enduring faith that, somehow between the vacillating extremes of our politics, our politicians will act as advocates for their causes, and eventually reach some moderate settlement in the court of public opinion. Yet, somehow, we continue to elevate anti-leaders of such poor character and short-term ambition that they cannot contemplate pragmatic compromise on any topic. Our politics is better described as precarious oscillation rather than balance. Under these circumstances, if we are to have any solutions at all, they are derived from short-lived swings to the right or left, during which one side has a temporary numerical advantage permitting some small piece of incomplete legislation to emerge. 

And so... we have half-fixes to our healthcare problems; half-fixes to issues of immigration; half-fixes throughout our educational apparatus; half-fixes to our fiscal challenges... and half-approaches toward the violence just unleashed yet again on our children.

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