My First Glimpse of the U.S. Capitol Building when I was 16
A few years ago, I served on a jury for a man accused of drunk driving. The trial lasted for a week, and while the timing couldn’t have been worse for me as a teacher, I left my students with a substitute and tried to put away all distractions to do what I felt was my duty as a citizen. I focused on working with a diverse jury to make decisions about the six counts against a man who had hit a woman and her daughter head-on. The woman had little time to react. She swerved enough to save her daughter’s life, and after the accident, she died in her daughter’s arms.
All of us but one felt the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming. And because of that one juror, we pored through the evidence and stayed in that room—with no contact with anyone until we came to an agreement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I’ve listened to both sides ratchet up the rhetoric on both sides of the budget debate in the past few days.
“At some point we’ve gotta do some governing,” said President Obama today.
Yes, our leaders in Congress do need to do some governing. And I’m beginning to think that it’s our leaders who should be sequestered—as in when a jury is kept away from everyone until they reach a verdict—and maybe they should have a gag order of the sort juries have while they’re sequestered, too.
Instead, we, the people, are subjected every hour of every day to political posturing and exaggeration on both sides. I’m a liberal. But I’m also intelligent. And I feel insulted when the administration I voted into office puts out a chart showing how much each state will be affected if an agreement isn’t reached by Friday. When I look at that map and see that it’s the “red states” that will be most affected, I have a hard time believing there isn’t a bit of propaganda in that report.
Then, of course, when I hear the other side say that the President refuses to compromise, when he has compromised so much that the most liberal people in his base vote for him only because they’re voting against the opposition, I don’t believe them either.
If we continue to let both sides try their case in the media, we can’t help but end up with a hung jury. But deny both sides access to the media—or to anyone outside the room where the deliberations are taking place—and we’d probably have a very different result.
My mother, who sat out a number of elections, often said, “What’s the point in voting one dirty bunch out and the other dirty bunch in?”
My sister and I, who both believe that this great experiment in democracy is the best government on earth, eventually convinced her that it was important to vote, even when she was disillusioned.
Increasingly, though, I understand how she got to that point. I don’t believe that either side is a “dirty bunch.” But I do believe that the 24-hour media cycle has made our leaders feel that they have to be politicians first, leaders second.
So how about it? Should we all write to our elected officials and insist they sequester themselves and have a gag order until they reach an agreement on a way to avoid the budget sequester?