Education Matters: Where is the loyal opposition?

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Like most of you, I have followed with interest the legislative “resolution” to our national budget crisis — although “Interest” may not be the word that many of us would use to describe the sorry spectacle that has played out in our nation’s capital.

Leaving politics aside, if that is possible, I am left with my own crisis of confidence in our two-party system, wondering how it is that grown men and women chosen to lead are so readily herded together and so completely subservient to something our country euphemistically refers to as “party loyalty.”

Some might liken our legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle (in state capitals, as well as our national capital) to quarreling spouses in familiar deadlock, each trotting out tired arguments and resorting to old habits of thinking, and getting nowhere in the process.

In the present economic calamity, which cries out for creative solutions and compromise, we the people are hearing a steady stream of old tapes being played by party loyalists — more loyal by far to political platforms than actual constituencies. It has become an atmosphere where new ideas and novel approaches go begging and the air is filled with hollow-sounding phrases spoken by posturing politicians.

If that sounds a little harsh, perhaps our senators and representatives are more aptly compared to little children, reverting to basic behaviors and using a limited vocabulary that once defined their younger years. We’ve all witnessed outbursts and tantrums on the floors of each house of Congress, resembling more a schoolyard than the legislative chambers of the greatest nation on earth.

What we hear coming from the House and Senate on the nightly news broadcasts are scathing attacks from each party, with rarely a hint of conciliation. Take the offensive, seize on the misstatement, don’t miss an opportunity to denigrate the opposition — all of it justified and sanctified in the name of, once again, party loyalty.

No better example of this mindless adherence to party unity is the wrist-slapping of state Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) for failing to vote with the Democratic majority on the state budget. Portantino did not click his heels in compliance with the official party line. That separation from the herd apparently comes with a price.

Here we have a politician whose best judgment and conscience took priority over his political affiliation (someone should pin a metal on the man) and it draws a reprimand by party leaders whose job, it seems, is to have all members bleating out the same messages and following in lock step to an official line. Not only is that insult to the voting public, it is an affront to our democracy.

And yet that is what we are saddled with. I’d love to know the private thoughts of each of our legislators when they are in full battle with the opposition party. I wonder if they are ever tempted to bolt from their mandated conformity and follow instead an inner sense of right and wrong.

Perhaps we’d all benefit if public speaking forums henceforth came equipped with polygraph hook-ups so that we could see just how loyal our representatives are to the truth.

I’m convinced that our present political alignments are churning out men and women that are more ready for combat with each other than they are ready to conduct the business and promote the welfare of this country.

When compromise becomes a dirty word and our leaders heed more to rigid political platforms than the common good, when stumping appearances on CNN and Fox receive more attention than honest devotion to principle, when corporations and unions influence laws and control the people who make them, when the legislators in whom we invest confidence and trust are more loyal to party than to the people they represent, and when those legislators vote unanimously in blocs instead of as individuals, it is time to rethink our basic assumptions about a two-party system.

For years I have taught and believed in the concept of “loyal opposition” (Democrats/Republicans) because historically it has promoted spirited discussion and honest debate in the halls of Congress. We have departed from that concept and degraded the system by which we govern ourselves.

Third party, anyone?

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.
 
 

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