Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Third Road

I know it's not yet autumn equinox - we've still got a couple of weeks to go before the official end of summer. But for all practical purposes, summer ends here in Washington DC on Labor Day. The next day - today - Congress goes back into session, all the kids are back in school, and the quiet laziness of summer vanishes as if by magic.

The Congressional staffers who come to see me for massage are worried, emotional. One high ranking dude was almost in tears, and if you're an American, you can probably guess why. These tough, smart, hard working people must now re-engage with health care reform, among other things. If I worked for Congress, right about now I would be heavily into anti-anxiety medication.

The process is a quagmire. Did you know there are at least four versions of the bill floating around, each of them 1,000 pages long? Four thousand pages - whoa - that's even longer than Shelby Foote's history of the American Civil War and I bet not even a fraction as interesting.

Ronald Brownstein wrote a book called "The Second Civil War" a couple of years ago. It's all about how "extreme partisanship" has rendered our two party system inoperable. I didn't read the book, but I think he's completely right. Initially I blamed Newt Gingrich and later Karl Rove, but these days I think many of us are contributing to the split. We're all responsible now.

During the Bush administration I was outraged, as really I should have been. Somehow I believed that when Obama became president, the extreme differences between the parties would soften. I thought it would be automatic. Boy, was I wrong! In order for two groups to reach consensus, there has to be some common ground, but as far as I can see there is not one square inch of common ground shared by the two U.S. parties.

What about a third road for our country? I've been wondering how that could happen and what it might look like. So far I haven't been able to visualize it, but it's a less discouraging idea than thinking we're doomed, as I have been. It's more hopeful than to continue engaging in righteous indignation. I've stopped watching my beloved Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow because they just get me more worked up, an energetic state that does not help anything. In fact I'm ready to admit that they're just as sensationalistic as those crazy dudes on Fox News, really they are.

I'm trying to imagine a way out of this mess but my mind is like an empty blackboard. I can't see any viable solution if our country remains so rigidly divided, so what would a third road look like in this case? Do you know?

"O see ye not that narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.

"And see not ye that broad broad road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path to wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.

"And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fern covered mound?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night must go."

--The Fairy Queen, explaining the Third Road to Thomas the Rhymer


Nancy said...

I agree with you completely on this one. I also have stopped watching Keith and Rachael, for the very same reason. This question was asked at our lunch in Tahoe - how do we combat the extremism that has rendered our country helpless?

Reya Mellicker said...

When you asked sincerely what can we do to help Congress function, it got me to thinking about the third road. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

glnroz said...

We have been led into this Extremism intentionally. I am labeled and listed as a radical, I would guess, and perhaps most on here a libral, but I agree with you tolally on this. Until we consider the common good for all, we are toast.

John Hayes said...

I love that piece as you know, & I generally think the "third road" is one of the more useful concepts. & I've long been opposed to the two party concept; in theory, I'd say the more, the merrier, but with the hegemony the two parties now maintain, it's hard for a really effective third party to emerge, let alone multiple, effective parties. & sadly, money is a very big stumbling block. Great post--lots to think about.

ellen abbott said...

I couldn't agree more. I've felt our two party system has been a failure for some time now. In fact, I used to vote independent hoping that it would help a third party arise. But then I realized I was just throwing my vote away so I stopped. I agree with John that it is near impossible for a third party to emerge because the two we have will put all their resources against such a possibility.

The Bug said...

Hubby & I quit watching Keith & Rachel for the same reasons too. As my husband pointed out this morning (regarding the controversy about President Obama speaking to schoolchildren), cynicism & honest questions are good - hate isn't. Sometimes I feel inundated by the hate. Sigh.

NanU said...

It is a shame how the main parties have become so polarized. Now that they're so big and powerful, it isn't possible, though, for a real third party to start up. There are some already and they're just not viable against the Reds & the Blues. (ha, not viable, but important - let's not forget how Nader's bunch got Bush elected...)
Oh, dear; I'm getting started now.
Let me go back to work on something pleasant, like the Grammar Mines. I feel bad to deal with the problem by turning my back on it, but one has to stay sane.

Have a good remains of the day!

Reya Mellicker said...

I think getting enraged just adds more energy to the divide, no matter which way you direct your rage.

And, I don't think a third party is impossible, but maybe there's another third road, maybe not so literal as a third party, out there, invisible to our eyes because we're so used to the "Us" vs. "Them" thought form. I want to open my mind to an idea I haven't already thought of, to something I don't already know.

Hmmmm ......

Expat From Hell said...

I'm with the group here, Reya. What about the Road Less Traveled? I have turned off the TV entirely, and prefer to read what I need to know on-line or in paper print (like the tiny Kansas newspapers around here). Maybe I'll take my cue from my neighbor Texans, get some knobby tires, and go "off-road". How about THAT idea for Congress?

Best to you. EFH

Linda Sue said...

I feel very like a melon seed squinched between thumb and index finger- thumb being the Republican party, index being Democrat, there is significance in that , however, since I am a melon seed i just pop out like a projectile away from it all...land in more fertile soil and grow healthfully.
Love this post and the quotation, the inspiration and the reminder! Thank you!

Tom said...

over the weekend i had the opportunity to listen in on family members, all republicans, railing about health care and Obama now trying to influence school children...i had to walk away. I'm just disgusted with all the far right and far left bull****. What happened to common sense? This is why i stay away from politics--it's insanity.

hele said...

to elfland. up and away ;)

Ronda Laveen said...

Unfortunately, I think it is going to go on like this until it gets so bad a third option that includes: listening, compromise, and a need for the good of the whole instead of good for separate parts becomes a necessity. It's like we are reaching a critical mass. And that may not be all bad.

It's similar to when a relationship is in trouble and neither partner can get off their own stuff long enough to really look at the other person's point of view. So many relationships fail due to the simple fact of polarization on an issue. Often, it just comes down to being too prideful to move together and forward.

We, as a people of united states, need to make that loud and clear. Problem is, if the town hall meetings are any indication, many are too confused to make it a conscious decision.

Maybe that third road would look like the people leading the government and big business instead of the other way around. Isn't that how this country got started?

lakeviewer said...

Interesting twist. Thoughtful post.

Rebecca Clayton said...

It is a mess, isn't it? I try to remember that we've had terrible messes in the past, and we've muddled through, and sometimes even made things better. Remember all the horrible things that happened because black Americans wanted to vote, go to school, and move freely around the communities where they lived? Murders, cities burning, political assassinations....

Right now, in my local history job, I'm reading Pocahontas County letters and diaries from the years leading up to the Civil War. Now there was a mess!

Your work must surely help people find their way through all the turmoil. The small things are what make the difference in road selection.

Chris Wolf said...

Love the idea of a third, compassionate, moderate, thinking, conscientious, engaged,open road from my door to yours. As I begin down this path in my neighborhood, at my doorstep, and if you begin at yours, perhaps someday our paths will connect?

Adrianne said...

The crazy thing is, Reya, that now there's not even common ground on the stuff that the parties have traditionally been relatively reasonable about, like the financial reform stuff I am working on. It's like everyone has agreed to disagree just for the sheer sake of disagreeing. Arrgghh.

Dan Gurney said...

I share your discouragement and concern. How to get out of this mess?

There is a way to reconciliation: Focus on underlying values.

We all want safety, happiness, health, and (most of us) a healthy ecology.

Where we differ is how to achieve these values. By listening to each other and by assuming positive intent, I think we can at least begin to move together in a positive direction. My world contains many from the "other end of the political spectrum" but we CAN talk with each other when the focus is on our values.

P.S. I abandoned TV and major media years ago.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, Chris, YES.

And yeah, Adrianne, hence all the worry and emotional volatility of my clients over the weekend. Everyone was so upset - justifiably so.

Ronda I do think corporate mindset is one of our huge stumbling blocks. We live in a corporate world, though, so what next?

I am opening my mind and heart, trying to empty out a bit, see what comes.

Thanks to all for your wisdom!

Delwyn said...

Hi Reya

I just love the summer in your tree..

Happy days

A Cuban In London said...

I guess that they forgot about the 'compromise' and 'negotiation' bit in politics when they signed up to become politicians.

Good post.

Greetings from London.

Barry said...

Why stop at three parties, Reya. We have at least 5 viable parties here in Canada.

All as rabidly partisan as the other. Only spread over 5 parties, you don't have to take them as seriously.

Reya Mellicker said...

Barry - If only!

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