As the "Just Say No" approach that forced a fruitless U.S. government shutdown goes global, political leaders and voters in America, Europe and elsewhere must resolve to make 2014 a year to say yes to action. A world seeking desperately to find the path towards renewed economic vibrancy needs politicians to say yes to confronting the tough issues head on and voters to say yes to participating in all election contests rather than leaving a vacuum for fringe voices to exploit.
2013 was a landmark year for the worldwide "Just Say No" crowd. In Italy, a quarter of the voters supported a party led by a comedian instead of facing up to the serious need to cut the nation's ballooning debt. The Egyptian street said no to President Muhammad Morsi soon after saying no to dictator Hosni Mubarak, and factions are now saying no to the interim military government as well. Between June and September, Australia had three different prime ministers.
Voters' petulant protest ballots have too often been matched by equally immature lip service from those in power to the concerns of voters, but without the courage to take the needed difficult action.
It is vital for both to reform their ways in 2014. Not only are there important mid-term elections in the United States, the upcoming European Union (EU) Parliament elections could even be more rocked by protest votes. A significant share of those elected to the EU Parliament in May could be from Euro-skeptic parties who largely oppose the existence of the organization they would be joining. This result would throw even more sand into the gears and obstruct necessary, but difficult, decisions for the continent.
The rise of the Tea Party and Euro-skeptics has been fueled in part by politicians who take personal credit for any popular government policy while simultaneously blaming Washington or Brussels for things voters dislike.
Political leaders too often see blaming the capital as a cloaking device to disguise a dereliction of duty. Part of elected office is explaining to the electorate that the political process can only work if all sides are committed to reconciling widely divergent views (think of the differences between Boston and Houston or between Berlin and Athens) to find common ground.
Since the financial meltdown in 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been the only eurozone leader to be re-elected. Her victory was seemingly the exception to a disturbing trend: generally those who obfuscated advanced while politicians willing to confront pressing problems lost. Merkel won by pushing political leaders and the public alike to confront the roots of their problems. Merkel showed mettle and the voters responded positively.
Though the many protest parties differ greatly from one another, The Economist astutely observed that their common thread is a middle class of "people who feel the elite at the top and scroungers at the bottom are prospering at the expense of ordinary working people." These feelings are easy to understand when the political narrative is caricatured as one side protecting the rich from high taxes and the other side protecting bloated government benefits.
The solution is for all sides to be willing to meet in the middle and address the fiscal indecision that stifles the confidence needed for companies to invest in job-creating growth. Politicians must say yes to action.
The electorate shoulders a portion of the blame for the mess we are in as well. Too often voters feel that if they participate in the presidential or general elections they have fulfilled their duty. Too many voters say no to taking the time to be engaged in primary elections. Too many voters in Europe focus only on their national elections to the exclusion of EU politics. Voter negligence leaves a dangerous void for disruptive voices to exploit. The general public must say yes to action and become educated voters in all elections.
It is useful to remember that the new nation birthed by the original tea party defined itself with a seal whose only inscription is "E pluribus unum," out of many one. 2014 should be the year that citizens of the world commit to say yes and work towards to making that dream a reality in their communities.
Hon. Mark R. Kennedy (@HonMarkKennedy) leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).