Whenever election season rolls around, I can’t help but think of the TV show “The West Wing” (and it would appear that other YDN columnists feel the same). I inevitably compare all political candidates to Jed Bartlett, the idealistic, wildly intellectual president on the show, and his group of brilliant, irreverent aides. I don’t think of the show with longing during election season because it’s hilarious — though it is — or because it’s the equivalent of chicken soup for the tortured liberal soul. No, what makes the world of “The West Wing” so compelling during election season is the way the characters on the show talk.
It’s not the way our politicians talk today, and it’s not the way they’ve been talking throughout this election as they vented partisan bitterness, called each other names and lied through their teeth. No, the characters on “The West Wing” weren’t perfect, and they didn’t always tell the full truth, but they were men and women of integrity, people that you believed had your best interests — and the best interests of the country — at heart.
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Yesterday our country voted, modeling for the world what sustainable, vital democracy looks like. And yet, I wonder how many people voted because they genuinely believed that the people they were voting for were fully invested in making a better world for them, their constituents. I say “fully” because I believe that many politicians — our current and now future president amongst them — do want to build a better world for Americans.
But I also believe that we, and our president of the past four years, have come to realize that American politicians are often more interested in agendas other than building a better America: imposing their religious beliefs on people in the country who don’t share them, building up their own power bases and maintaining the status quo for their cronies in the private sector.
While most of these politicians won’t own up to the biases that inform their behaviors and opinions, they are also all too ready to call others out for the very same tendencies. The hypocrisy and disingenuousness of politics has become wearying, and it’s largely boiled down — for me — to a single point: our politicians are afraid of disclosure. They are eager to avoid substantive discussion with each other in which they are forced to agree, disagree and compromise.
Jed Bartlett ends one episode of “The West Wing” dreaming of a great conversation about American values and practices sweeping the country: in homes, in the media, in the White House and in Congress. I too dream of such a conversation, one beyond the above-mentioned partisan bickering and snarky asides.
We as a nation deserve such a conversation, one that acknowledges what our country isn’t doing well and what we can do better, making room in the conversation for everyone’s voice. I imagine an election in four years in which the voice of a millionaire doesn’t mean more than the voice of a new-made citizen; where young people are listened to as much as the old; where minorities can advocate for the changes that must be made in order for them to have equal opportunities and full participation in American public life.
Yes, it is the idealist in me imagining this conversation. But the realist in me is prepared for more of the same political dodging, ducking and road-blocking of avenues to honest, nuanced discourse.
And so, as everyone wakes up this morning, I want to advocate for a little outrage. We stood in line. We voted. We don’t necessarily believe our vote will change the world or our lives for the better. And yet we continue to wait and hope that the country we live in and love will improve economically, socially and politically — that our children will have better lives than ours.
Together, we’ve made a decision about who we want to lead us. We have four more years of President Obama. But it’s now our job to call the leaders of our many different branches of government to account, and remind them of their true responsibilities: our prosperity, our peace of mind.
As a lover of “The West Wing” and a young voter that never wants to feel the mixture of outrage, apathy and disbelief that I experienced during this election, I want to put forward a statement that politicians don’t seem to want to acknowledge: they work, and should only work, for us. Let’s spend this term reminding our leaders of what they can be — and what they owe us.
Zoe Mercer-Golden is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
This piece is part of the News’ Election Results Forum. Click here to read more.