Compromises, Compromises

October 18, 2013

I was thrilled to learn that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz used Starbucks as a communal vehicle to catalyze a civic reaction to our government’s inaction. Ultimately, the online petition launched on October 10 gathered 1.5 million signatures over 3 days. Bravo to Mr. Schultz for leveraging Starbucks’ social capital for civic engagement.

The petition is as straightforward as a black cup of coffee (not easy to find on the Starbucks menu)
• Reopen the government;
• Pay our national debts on time; and 
• Pass a long-term budget deal by the end of 2013.

Most Americans embrace these principles and agree that our representatives should be serving our best interests. Avoiding default and its disastrous results was undoubtedly a desirable choice. Yet our leaders consistently choose not to compromise or engage in civilized or constructive political discourse. Time and time again, they have chosen to take us to the brink of disaster and then adopt a last minute plan to kick the can down the road. Where else do employees get rewarded for making such bad choices?

What is more troubling is that we the people are allowing it. I hold myself accountable first. My life, like most citizens, is a whirlwind of obligation and activity. I am a single woman who’s buying and selling a home, working on a start-up business, managing a nonprofit civics project, being a mother and grandmother, and staying involved in my community, while recovering from a knee surgery that didn’t go well over a year ago. It’s so much that I excuse myself from one of the most important activities of all—being a good citizen.

Like so many, I’ve been outraged by our politicians’ behavior. In our daily lives, we negotiate and make compromises all the time. We learned that lesson early on in the sandbox, in the school cafeteria and at recess (before it got cut from school budgets). The rigid get left behind, the flexible adapt. Ideologues may be interesting to listen to, but we don’t want to live with or work for them, and we certainly don’t want them working for us. However, I’ve been too busy with my life to do much other than vent with friends and family about the horrifying beltway paralysis. Instead, I hoped that someone else would do my job because I was too busy living my life. I hoped that business and civic leaders’ influence and negative media polling would be sufficient in appealing to the minds and hearts of our representatives. Shame on me, shame on so many of us! 

While we narrowly averted disaster, that doesn’t let our elected officials off the hook—or us. Especially us. They work for us, not the other way around. Now is the time to let the White House know and Congress know that we expect them to work things out. We have been working it out for nearly 225 years. The process is never perfect and no one gets it all their way. Thomas Jefferson did not like the fact that we invoke religion at all. Ben Franklin endorsed the Constitution saying, “I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect nothing better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.” Some historians call the Constitution itself “A bundle of compromises” because of the concessions that our Founders knowingly made to create it. 

It’s time for our elected leaders to get into the sandbox together. Forget running all the games your way on the playground. Stop trying to score political points, as the American people have to be the ultimate winners. Complete your homework on time and do your job, like most Americans do every single day. Don’t award yourselves special privileges for doing so. You’re not entitled. 

And fellow citizens, let’s make sure they hear us loud and clear. Talk with your loved ones, communities, and colleagues. Write, call, petition, demonstrate and vote. Nothing is more important in our busier lives than this. We cannot create a More Perfect Union if we continue to sit by as spectators in our democracy. Let’s be the people of our Constitution. Our future depends on it.

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