Opinion: ‘Us’ versus ‘them,’ choosing partnerships over politics
WHY WE LIVE HERE
Free Press Opinion Columnist
All but two of the candidates I voted for in last week’s election won.
I rarely vote a party line ticket. I just can’t vote for candidates that I either don’t like or don’t respect, and this election was no different. So you would have thought that I would be feeling pretty optimistic when I woke up on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, the opposite was true. I felt defeated, hopeless and weighed down. As in, nothing ever changes so it doesn’t matter who’s driving the boat. The editorials and political cartoons didn’t help — mocking the entire system and the fact that this is a new chance for the Republicans to do nothing just as the Democrats have done.
My Facebook feed was all over the place, too — from those who thought it was the undoing of America to those who thought this was an end to the undoing of America. No matter who was doing the talking, they kept speaking in terms of “us” versus “them.” I was confused as to who fit into which category. It was a mess.
Regardless of political affiliation to “us” or “them,” we just keep electing the wrong people. That’s what we get with a two-party system and a closed primary. I’m convinced that the primary system exists today because both parties believe that Americans are too stupid to vet their own candidates for office (this is probably the only thing that “us” and “them” agree on). And because each party controls the primary, we end up with ideologues who refuse to compromise. I just can’t see how that works in a country of 316 million people. And, obviously, it doesn’t.
The first election I ever followed closely was the Bush/Gore election in 2000. I was shocked at the behavior of the Democrats after Bush was declared the president and at the way they treated him for the next eight years. I was already a registered Republican, but the behavior of the Democrats only reinforced my registration. So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when the Republicans exhibited the same behavior once Obama was elected. Don’t get me started on the “birther” movement. It’s no different than those fringe Democrats who believe that Bush was behind 9-11. I’d wash my hands of both parties if it weren’t for that darn primary.
True story: In 2006, I ran for the position of state representative on the Republican ticket in a blue state. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had served eight years in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot and had recently returned from Iraq where I commanded an attack helicopter company. I loved serving my country and wanted to continue in public service. I ran for office for all the right reasons, or so I thought. I wanted to help the people in my community — specifically kids and veterans. I thought that my leadership experience from the military would translate well into working with both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that would make lives better. Mostly, I wanted to bring people together. Unfortunately, those aren’t the reasons you run for office. You are just supposed to win at all costs. I was simply one more vote for “us” and one less vote for “them.”
I got the nomination of the local Republican party, a campaign manager and a political consultant, and I began the process of knocking on doors, making stump speeches and kissing babies. Of course, this was after both my opponent and my own party ran background checks on me for any skeletons. I had this weird interview with my consultant where I was supposed to divulge any affairs, DUIs, and financial problems (of which I had none — how boring). The funny thing was that none of those things were deal breakers; the party leadership just wanted to be able to control the story and carefully craft the message to deal with any of my past sins. They were desperate for a candidate — any candidate — to put up against an unpopular incumbent and I was the sucker.
The next six months was a train that I couldn’t stop, didn’t control and I simply hung on for dear life. Lots of people gave me a lot of money. The consultant told us we had to go negative. I said things I didn’t believe. I had to toe the party line. At one point, I was told it would look better if I went to church. I got endorsements, which is a lot like applying for college. You fill out a questionnaire and answer the questions in a way that you think the endorsing organization will approve and then they send you money. I met most of the leadership in the state’s House and didn’t like or trust a single person — Republican or Democrat. Not one.
When election day finally came and went and I’d lost by a huge margin, I laid awake in my bed and felt nothing but pure relief. That was my introduction to politics and how I learned about “us” versus “them.” I promised my husband I would never do that again.
I’m still terribly uncomfortable with the “us” versus “them” ideology. I simply don’t believe that an entire community, or a country for that matter, can fit into one of two categories. Guns, education, health care, life and death, fiscal responsibility, civil rights, along with arts and culture — we’ve divvied up these facets of society into categories that “us” or “them” have claimed as “ours” or “theirs,” and we’re considered traitors if we’re the party of “us” and we support one platform from the party of “them.”
We certainly aren’t going to change a thing in Washington, D.C. There’s not much we can do about Denver. However, we do have the power to change the political culture in our own community. Five of seven city council seats are up for election this coming April. There’s a lot at stake for our community, and I don’t think those things should be decided by the party of “us” or “them.” I choose the “Party of We.”
It’s why we live here.
Robin Brown, owner of West Slope Events, realizes how naive this week’s column may seem, but also believes that change needs to start somewhere. Share your comments with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Five candidates are running for three seats on the Garfield Re-2 school board this year.