I stood behind my toddler daughter on one end of the teeter-totter, holding it level with one hand and helping her straddle the seat with the other. At the other end stood another mom from the neighborhood, holding what she called a see-saw, as her daughter climbed to the seat. We worked together, teaching our girls about balance, showing them how to touch their feet gently so that the person on the other end wouldn’t be jolted into the air or knocked off the seat. That first day we two moms planted our feet firmly, ready to catch our children until they learned to balance themselves.
Over time the other mom and I were able to move away from our children to the park bench. It didn’t matter that she called it a see-saw, and I called it a teeter-totter. We took great pleasure in chatting and watching our children, patiently waiting for each other until both climbed aboard before setting the see-saw in motion. They learned balance.
That scene plays itself behind my eyes often these days as I watch politicians in Washington. Though both parties have landed hard on the political teeter-totter, knocked off by the party on the other end, they seem to have learned nothing about balance. Those who’ve been thrown into the air and slammed to the ground, suffering cuts and bruises, come up angry and sputtering, determined to throw the opposition off the board as well. They’ve forgotten the common good at the center that holds the board firmly in place, and there is no protective parent sitting on the park bench to remind them to play nicely.
Both liberals and conservatives seem to have forgotten that they don’t have to get everything they want for the system to work. In fact, the system works best when politicians grow up to be leaders who know that balancing their aims for the common good is the only way that good government functions.
We in the electorate are to blame. Surveys show that while we’re all disgusted with Congress, we’re satisfied with our own elected representatives. And until we elect representatives who can play nicely, we’ll continue to watch the same spectacle on the political playground.
There is a middle ground on every single issue that faces us. It is possible both to offer services to the poor and to hold them accountable for making good use of those services. It is possible to tax the rich and to encourage business growth. It is possible to give teachers the freedom to take risks and to hold them accountable for their students’ growth. It is possible to allow gun owners the right to bear arms and to compromise on sensible laws against assault weapons. It is even possible to have laws that allow women choice and to ensure that no woman uses a late term abortion as a means of personal expedience.
All these things are possible. There is a difference between giving up what we believe personally on each of these issues and agreeing, for the sake of the common good, that the laws we pass can be about balance. But this does require that we give up trying to knock the other side off the political teeter totter.
All these things are possible. The question is whether we have the will to make it happen. Can we elect people whose values match our own and allow them the freedom of knowing they won’t be thrown out of office if they agree to a compromise law that falls short of our perfect world?
We can. In fact, we must if we hope not to teeter on the brink of disaster.