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Government, Politics & Issues

Editor's weekly: Only you can prevent politics as usual

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 4, 2013: Dear Beaconites -

With the federal government shutting down this week, Americans across the political spectrum seem united in disgust at the way our government is – or isn't – functioning. We deserve better, citizens seem to agree – though they disagree on what better looks like.

True, Congress seems to have reached a new low in its capacity to take care of business. True, we are in short supply of leaders with vision, courage and a knack for reasonable compromise. True, the impasse has inconvenienced citizens, idled federal workers and raised serious doubts about the government's ability to avoid even bigger catastrophes, such as handling the debt ceiling limit without disrupting the economy.

But unfortunately, if we want to get out of this mess, we'll have to do more than just blame politicians. Citizens may deserve better. But wittingly or not, we've helped sow the seeds of the bitter fruit we're reaping now. In recent years, the old realities of human nature and the new realities of the digital world have combined to produce a toxic political culture. To change it, we may need to also change ourselves.

In the current culture, it's easy for citizens to live in echo chambers that reinforce the ideas we already hold. To change that, we need to apply healthy skepticism to what we read and to seek out sources that don't just reinforce one point of view.

In the current culture, it's easy for politicians to design safe districts and to prosper by letting narrow interests trump the general good. To change that, voters must resist the temptation to withdraw from politics in disgust. They must be vocal in appreciating the virtues of moderation and compromise.

In the current culture, it's easy for news organizations to focus on corruption and conflict while ignoring genuine efforts to solve civic problems. You may not be able to change that, but at the Beacon we can begin. While continuing to act as a watchdog against wrong, we're equally interested in catching our region getting things right.

This week, as the toxic political culture boiled over, author and New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich spoke in St. Louis about the growth of a permanent Washington establishment that prospers regardless of which party holds power or what happens. Leibovich was this year's speaker at the annual James C. Millstone Lecture. It's jointly sponsored by the Beacon and the Saint Louis University Law School in honor of a legendary Post-Dispatch assistant managing editor and Washington correspondent whose skill and integrity set the standard for journalists in a previous generation.

Also this week, Beacon staffers Jo Mannies, Jason Rosenbaum and Robert Joiner reported on the causes and effects of the government shutdown. Jo and Jason explained the impact and political dynamics in our region. Bob continued to look at implementation of Obamacare, which is at the heart of the dispute.

Their reporting was one small part of the Beacon's effort not only to chronicle the dysfunctions of our political system but also to help analyze and fix them. It's not the Beacon's role to tell you what positions to take on the divisive political issues before us. But it is our responsibility to explore the roots, realities and possible alternatives to politics as usual.

Americans indeed deserve better government than we got this week. At the Beacon, we're trying to do our part to make it so.



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