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Bryan Farha Headshot

'Fighting' Mad at Congress for Shutdown? Don't Be. It's Not Their Fault -- It's Ours

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The stagnation in Washington, D.C. among members of the legislature brings about anger among many American citizens. Members have been engaged in a sophisticated game of "chicken" for decades, but they've taken it to a new level in the last few years -- with neither side showing an indication they will budge and inch. This is the new norm on Capitol Hill. The current stagnation is, of course, over the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act -- better known as "Obamacare." Voters of both political parties are understandably angry at members in both legislative branches. But -- believe it or not -- our anger should not be targeted at members of the House and Senate. It should be targeted at ourselves. You and I are ultimately to blame. Let me explain.

WE ARE POOR AT ELECTING POLITICIANS. Think hard about why most people really vote for a candidate. It's not only because of alignment of political beliefs -- it's also that they campaign to "fight" for us and for our cause. Right? We're not interested in lip service. We want them to back up their words and deliver with action. They vow relentless persistence -- and this convinces us to support many candidates. Don't we tend to vote for candidates who will persevere in their efforts to keep their campaign promises? And candidates don't want to fail their constituents, so they do everything in their power to not let us down. In fact, you might say they are doing exactly what they promised to do -- fight for us. And they do it like pit bulls. Neither side will budge. So, congressional members are simply living up to their campaign promises.

THE END RESULT IS DISASTER. Let's use a football analogy to help see what the fighting mentality really accomplishes. Imagine Democratic House members in football uniforms as they walk up to the line of scrimmage. Then visualize the Senate Republicans doing the same thing. They look at each other with intimidation. They proceed to run a play by bullying each other physically, hitting, scratching, jockeying for position, and maneuvering any way possible to gain the upper-hand and move the opponent out of the way -- or even better, they try to drive the opposition into the ground. After all that incredible expended energy, the end result is no gain on the play. This is pretty much the way it is with Congress nowadays, but for the football analogy to be complete, imagine that they play the entire game this way. Neither team wins -- nor do the fans. Never any progress. Sound familiar? Sound like the behavior of the legislative branch? Seem hopeless? Not if we can uncover the underlying, root problem. Then an alternative would present itself.

THE TRUE PROBLEM SOURCE AND SOLUTION. Why is the current government shutdown, Washington stagnation, and congressional impotence on Capitol Hill the fault of the American people? The answer is because we wrongly fall for the campaign promise that our candidate will fight for us. Don't misunderstand me -- we aren't wrong because of any gullibility on our part that they will keep their promise. They clearly do keep the promise to fight -- that's the problem. This is a case where keeping campaign promises is crippling Washington. But we are wrong in our support because fighting doesn't work in the American governmental structure. We fall for it because a candidate fighting for their constituents is a show of strength, power and control, right? Don't we want this in our elected officials? Isn't keeping campaign promises, perseverance, tenacity, persistence, and determination what we sent them to Washington for in the first place? They're really going to bat for us, right? Aren't these descriptors positive attributes when we teach our children about not giving up? Don't we teach them to never quit? It's true that we don't want to elect "weak" candidates, but are non-fighters truly weak? Instead, why aren't we electing "communicators" and people who know how to "compromise"? Rather than elect fighters, do we ever consider voting for candidates who demonstrate the truly needed skills of communication, mediation, negotiation, conciliation, and compromise? But electing "communicators" doesn't seem to have the "show of strength" feel, doesn't it? Sounds a bit weak, but it shouldn't be perceived that way. Perceiving communication skills in candidates as weak is our fault--and so is the Washington stagnation that results from devaluing these attributes.

CONCLUSION. Until this current health care-debt ceiling game of dare ends, we're going to be listening to the media assess blame for Washington gridlock ad nauseam. Democrats will blame Republicans. Republicans will blame Democrats. And the American people will do the same. But this will all be incorrect. If you want to know where the real blame lies, don't look to members of Congress. Look to those of us who elected them. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. It is absolutely, positively, OUR fault. We should be careful what we wish for -- we might just get it. When will we ever learn that pit bulls don't make good government officials?