As 2013 came to a close, many of us reflected on what transpired over the past year and what changes we would like to make in our personal lives.
For those who follow politics, it would be hard to argue that 2013 was a productive or civil year, particularly at the national level. The political atmosphere was fraught with gridlock, obstruction, flaring tempers, intra-party squabbles and a new level of hyper-partisanship.
From the faux scandals to the ego-induced crises to the government shutdown and threats to default on our debts, it’s no wonder the approval numbers for members of Congress sank to a new low, registering in single digits.
So as we face a new year, we have the opportunity to start anew, to seek common ground, to work collaboratively in the best interest of all Americans and not just the ideologically pure on each end of the political spectrum.
The partisan bickering and verbal bomb throwing is not serving the American people well. It’s not serving the political parties well, either.
Early in 2013, the world was introduced to Pope Francis. In nine short months, this remarkable pope has shown us, through his example, the importance of tolerance, humility and charity. It’s no wonder people hungry for kindness and civility are drawn to him. Congress can only dream of sharing his favorable poll numbers.
Late in 2013 we lost an inspirational leader, who, though imperfect, showed an unimaginable propensity for forgiveness. Nelson Mandela refused to let bitterness ruin him and chose to forgive those who imprisoned him. He lived the words of the gospel that many of us have merely uttered. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” The outpouring of emotion at his death was a testament to how respected and admired he was throughout the world.
We can certainly learn a lot from these two world leaders. With them in mind, I offer the following wishes for 2014:
(1) That President Barack Obama can ease the strained relationships with Republican congressional members and reach out a hand of friendship and a sincere desire to work together. Although he has reason to be resentful of their attempts to see him fail, he should accept that as part of the hardball nature of politics and rise above it.
(2) That all members of Congress will set aside party loyalty and political strategy and work in a bipartisan manner to forge agreement with the other chamber and with President Obama, recognizing that there can be win/win solutions. Elected officials should put their constituents’ wellbeing above their own political ambitions.
(3) That both major political parties will tone down the angry, hateful rhetoric and instead focus on recruiting quality candidates and seek commonsense policy solutions. The battle should be on the field of ideas, not false idolatry.
(4) That voters recognize that they get the government they deserve and that they bear some responsibility for the state of the nation. Voters need to be better informed on the issues and the candidates. In this Internet age the information is literally at their fingertips. We all have opinions, but it’s crucial to understand the difference between fact and opinion. Find trustworthy sources for both. Incorporate multiple sources to get a broad perspective. Fox News is not a fair and balanced, impartial source. Neither is MSNBC.
(5) That the news media will elevate coverage of campaigns to focus on the candidate’s character, experiences, voting record, ideas and vision instead of on money raised, endorsements, political committee involvement, press releases and polls. Sensationalism is sexier than substance but we desperately need men and women of substance to restore the promise of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Those reporting on elected officials should impartially push for real answers. They shouldn’t let wild speculation go unchallenged, and they should point out misstatements and correct what was said.
Media fact checkers such as PolitiFact should be the norm and not the exception.
Those are my five simple wishes for 2014. Am I asking too much?
Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.