I am a sports fan.
I love all kinds of sports, but basketball is my favorite. So much so, I even got the NBA League Pass this year. Despite what people think, basketball is a contact sport. The players are big, strong and physical. The competition is tough and intense.
However, in watching a lot of NBA games, I noticed an interesting situation. Once the game is over, players from opposing teams will hug each other and almost instantly forget the game they just played (for the most part). The outcome is accepted, and there is a show of good sportsmanship.
There is another game that I also follow closely, the one played on Capitol Hill. It is the game of politics. In the past, the politicians on Capitol Hill were portrayed as civilized and well-mannered.
Capitol Hill was the place where decisions and policies were made to solve our collective problems. Unfortunately, in our recent past, this game is getting tougher, and due to the high stakes, it is even getting dirty. No party is immune from this change.
Rarely, do we see representatives from different parties hug. More often than not, we can see the dislike and disgust on their faces.
In sports, opposing teams and players may not like each other, but there is a mutual respect and admiration for the other’s skill and talent. However, it appears that our legislators (both Republican and Democratic), not only do they not like each other, but they do not trust or respect the other.
There is a feeling of hate. Common sense tells us that you can negotiate with tough competitors, but it is hard to compromise with your enemy. Because of this, it is no wonder that the 112th Congress has been described as the “do-nothing” Congress.
The great ancient philosopher Aristotle suggested that human beings are political beings. As such, politics is a human phenomenon. Interestingly, as this human
phenomenon is so complicated, no universal accepted definition has ever been agreed upon.
However, some wise men have offered their opinions. Edmund Burke, the British political philosopher theorized that politics is the art of the possible. In contrast, Thomas Hobbes theorized that politics is dirty business. You have to wonder how the same phenomena can be described in these two extremes. Art is beautiful, while dirty business is ugly.
We all know that politics is the process of solving conflicts. Human beings have to live in a group. In a group, different people have different goals to achieve. Due to limited resources, conflict becomes inevitable in all groups.
So, you need to have a decision-making body to decide who gets what when and how. (We often use slice of pie to illustrate the process of distributing of resources.) In a dictatorship, what the dictator wants he gets.
Thus there is not much politics involved. However, we have a separation-of-powers government — three branches of government and two equal legislative bodies. We also have a two-party system. Furthermore, we have a federal system. When our government tries to make decisions, the game of politics emerges.
As indicated earlier, politics deals with human activities to solve conflicts. Human activities not only include civilized actions of negotiation, persuasion and open discussion but also bad-faith actions of misrepresentation, deceit, blackmail and threat.
As civilized people, we Americans like to appreciate the
civilized means to solving conflicts. If you use the right way (reaching an agreement within our value system) and get the job done, the result may be a thing of beauty, dare we say, art. On the other hand, if you use unacceptable means to achieve your goals, our value system tells us that the result is dirty.
Based on this simple explanation, it is understandable why recent polls show that our 112th congress received the lowest rating in history. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it shows that we, as the general populace, have not lost our moral compass.
In a recent news program, MSNBC reported results from the Public Policy Polling testing Congress’ favorability rating against a variety of disliked or unpleasant things. To give you a sample, the poll showed that the general public has a higher opinion of head lice, used car salesmen, root canals and cockroaches than Congress.
Not all is lost though, as Congress polled better than meth labs and Lindsay Lohan. Meaningful and very sad.
Why do we have such a negative view toward our legislators? To me, the answer is simple and clear. Congress has failed to perform its duty.
In “solving” the fiscal cliff issue, we got to see first-hand how both parties behaved.
We got to see how they used all those bad-faith methods to deal with each other. Even though Congress is supposed to act as our representatives, we were merely pawns in the overall “battle” to secure a party victory. In the end, our Congress is responsible for turning the beauty of art into the ugliness of dirty business.
The debt-ceiling fight is on, and both sides are preparing for a showdown. Once again, we and the rest of the world will see how “dirty” this will get.
Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.