Why does it seem that the major political parties behave like parents with children going through a bitter divorce?
Divorce is never easy for anyone involved. Even in the most agreeable circumstances, it’s an ordeal for the spouses and the children. Having been through two divorces (sometimes, I think people who get married more than once are the ultimate optimists), I have pretty good experience – unfortunately -- with the ups and downs of this process.
In my analogy, the parties are like the opposing parents in a bad divorce, and the voters are like the children. Interestingly, it is as if one parent lives in Washington, one is in New York City and the children are in Detroit. And the parents are fighting over the spoils of the divorce, name-calling, and using the children as pawns.
Neither party in this process is thinking first about the voters. They are just using the voters to gain advantage over the opposing party, much like parents in a harsh divorce. And in the end, the children suffer and the only ones who really benefit in the short term are the parents.
In the current political and economic environment, Washington and New York City continue to do fine. The two parties protect Wall Street and the big banks and business, as well as continuing to allow and encourage the federal government to grow. All the while, voters in places like Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Phoenix keep suffering.
When you look at the worlds of Washington and New York, it’s as if the economic crisis never happened. Home values are fine, salaries are good, and retail doesn’t seem to have suffered. The opposite is true outside of these two metropolitan areas. Home values have dropped or are stagnant, wages are down, and people can’t afford to do much shopping. There is a canyon between the experiences of New York and D.C., and the rest of the country.
The opposing parties seem only to care about seeking advantage against each other. The voters are pawns in the back and forth who don’t understand what they did to deserve this and who suffer the most along the way.
And the media, in many instances, are like the divorce attorneys representing the opposing parties. Journalists aren’t trying to encourage agreement but, like many lawyers in divorces, are encouraging the fight, raising the level of emotion and anger, and hoping that the fight lasts as long as possible. The media, like the divorce lawyers, gain financial advantage in a long and bitter battle.
But in divorces, there’s a better way. There is the collaborative process where the spouses, even though they disagree, think of the best interests of the children above all else. Each spouse lays down his or her sword and is disinclined to win first. But each makes sure that the kids are treated as positively as possible through the divorce and the aftermath.
In this collaborative process, the lawyers don’t encourage bitterness but actually discourage it. They also try to come up with innovative solutions that are best for the kids. Discussions are calm, and at each point, the question is constantly asked if decisions are in the best interest of the children.
The two parties and the media should take a lesson from this collaborative process and employ it in our politics. They should think of the folks in Detroit firs, rather than just trying to gain advantage or get a win. Even though the parties disagree, the political process doesn’t need to be bitter and harsh. And the media should do more to encourage collaboration, as opposed to encouraging the conflict.
Maybe we will see this polarized process inflict enough negative effects on the voters that we will turn to a more cooperative and collaborative process. Having gone through that collaborative process in both of my divorces, I know it is very hard and it seems much easier to just fight. But, in the end, the kids are better off when the swords are sheathed.
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