The Wall Street Journal printed reader letters in response to a piece that I referenced recently. One letter went kind of the direction that I did. In part, reader Brad Tupi of Pittsburgh wrote:

Progressive policies (…) don’t work, no matter how often they are tried. I have no worry that I am tipping off the adversary. Liberals never admit that what they are doing is wrong, they just insist that they haven’t done enough of it yet.

Another letter (from Karen Duddlesten of Bellingham, Washington) took more the “moderate” tone, and ended with the statement:

All we want is for our politicians to solve real problems rather than making everything political.

Isn’t she right? Isn’t that what we all want?


Certainly I’ve heard similar expressions from a wide variety of people, both in person and in print. The sentiment seems to span the political spectrum. But I’m not sure that means we all agree. When a conservative wants real problems solved, they’re probably wondering why the Republicans that are elected aren’t doing what conservatives expect of them. The inability of Republicans to agree and pass “Republican” bills is interpreted as “the political” (reelection, primarily) taking precedence over passing laws. On the left, the question is why obstructionist Republicans, either in a branch of government that remains Republican-controlled leaving Democrats only in partial power; or perhaps Republican-appointed judges; or,when Democrats are completely in charge, the influence of right-wing lobbyists like the NRA. Those problems, and the solutions, may be obvious to the critic, but they are far from universally agreeable.

In other cases, the writer (or speaker) may not even know what form that solution should take. The assumption is that “we” have elected the great and the good to come up with the right answer, which is well within their grasp, if they would leave of the politicking and concentrate on governing.

How much of the time is the inability to get things done due to a genuine disagreement on the fundamentals (albeit often along party lines) on what constitutes a solution, and what constitutes a genuine problem. There are people who genuinely believe a $15-20 per hour minimum wage would solve many of the country’s problems, while others genuinely believe that eliminating the minimum wage and all the wage-and-hour laws that go with it would solve many of those same problems (and more). Both can’t be right. Both could be wrong, but both can’t be right.

And the process of working together will often come to the conclusion that the best assumption is that both, in fact, are wrong. Sometimes it seems like the system of politics is designed to move towards that particular conclusion. While there are issues that can be resolved rather non-controversially (and we probably each think our own favorite issues are in this category), for anything where there is a strong opinion on either side, the default of politics seems to be to scorch that middle ground and simply force through the majority side. Practically speaking, alienating those “moderates” means the gridlock that we have gotten so used to, and is so vociferously complained about.

From the standpoint of the “moderate,” however this is far from the worst solution. Failing to get your way this year still leaves the door open to coming together in the future. A win delayed is better than the inherent loss that comes from legislation that goes too far one way or the other. From those on the wings, in comparison, the incentive to compromise is tainted by the fact that the battle will not be over. You give up a little now get a fair solution, and you may see that as the beginnings of long term losses. The incentive there is to stand your ground no matter what. For the minority, this “gridlock” is a win, as you’ve prevented a bad outcome that, theoretically, had the numbers.

I recall some decades ago venting my frustrations about the inanities of the legal system to a friend who was a lawyer. He explained that the court systems were designed to be adversarial. Neither side, individually, pursues the just solution. But with both sides working fully and effectively against each other, the result of the process will come to the proper application of justice.

Likewise, the processes of government are designed to be adversarial, and designed to make it difficult to get things done. The former is in place to make sure that all sides are a party to the process and the latter to put the brakes on all the bad outcomes that turning policy into a political battle will often produce.

I also wonder who are “our politicians?” Variations on the theme are very common, but whom do we mean? Legislators? Any elected official? Recently, the lower-level, “non-political” appointees have come under increased scrutiny, criticism and, indeed, harassment. The thinking (I assume) that assisting The Donald with his policies, even if at a purely administrative level, helps advance those policies. “Resisting” means fighting back at every level. From the polar opposite side of the political spectrum, Libertarian types often come out strongly against the lowest-level of government employee – the police officer or the meter maid. Rulers cannot do what they do without the apparatus of State grinding away at the day to day.

Even Jesus seemed to morally equate the tax collector and prostitute. While He forgives them both and welcomes them to heaven, I don’t think even He excused them as “just doing their jobs.”

I guess clearly we don’t want the meter maids, the beat cops, and the tax collectors (or the prostitutes, for that matter) to get political. But at what point does execution turn into policy and then policy into politics?

On one hand, it seems a terrible turn to see the way that savage politics is working its way down the government ladder to the career types in public service. At the same time, I could surely name you a couple of examples where I think a particular agency’s bureaucracy is so entrenched with a particular political viewpoint that I’d have no problem calling them to task on it. I guess, for most of us, the answer changes with the political question.

So can “our politicians” solve real problems without making “everything political”? Probably not, and it would first require universal agreement not only on what the problems are, how real they are, but also on what the solution is.  I don’t see that on the horizon.