The causes of our discontent are many, but the current stalemate in Washington is for many politicians the climax of a decades-long struggle over the role of government in our lives. For most of the country, it is no climax; it’s simply useless.
The proof of the uselessness of this standoff is right here in Vermont, where the mayors and elected boards in our 200-plus cities and towns have on the whole balanced budgets, invested in infrastructure, recovered from Irene and made difficult decisions year after year.
As author Benjamin Barber said in a June TED (technology, entertainmment, design) Talk, the mayors should lead the country — because mayors are problem-solvers first, and Democrats or Republicans second. The issues in Woodbury or Benson or Barre or Rutland may be confronted by people who are Democrats or Republicans, but at the local level what really matters is that our leaders tackle the issues that are important to us.
In places like Springfield, even as drugs lead to crime and eat up police resources and public patience, there is revitalization and regrowth. Take a walk downtown in Springfield and you’ll see a town that has steadily turned its former troubles — abandoned factories, burned-out buildings — into assets. The same is true in Barre, and Montpelier and Rutland. The drugs, addiction and crime problems are symptoms of the disease that we are committed to beating.
But in most of these local efforts, we rely on the power of the state and federal governments, through grants, funding for social supports and infrastructure investment. The methadone clinic coming to Rutland is possible through state money; support for mental health treatment and transportation funds flow from the federal budget.
Research that leads to breakthrough and innovation, small business support and support for mortgage loans — all of these are funded through programs enacted in our name. One way or another, our federal government has a hand — be it a subtle hand, or an overbearing hand — in almost every part of our lives.
And our local governments don’t often see this as right or wrong — it is simply a tool that sometimes we wish we could do without, sometimes we reject because of the complications, and often use because it allows us to do things which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.
Which is why it is a strange choice on the part of conservatives to use the type of political grandstanding on display in Washington, D.C., to attempt to convince the country that they are right. It may make political sense, from that narrow perspective, but it is not going to solve our problems.
Mayors in Texas or Minnesota or Alaska may not agree with the way a Vermont mayor approaches a problem, but they certainly don’t waste time trying to convince another mayor they are wrong. They get to work, solve the problem and share what works.
One way or another, the current crop of Republicans in the House and Senate shoulder a great deal of responsibility for the current state of affairs — even though Democrats may not have the right way forward, either.
Another Republican, who spoke nearly 50 years ago while Vermont was wrestling with issues that would permanently alter the soul of the state, had an entirely more useful point of view than the obstruction tactics currently in play.
“... We Republicans in dealing with the present administration must not oppose for opposition’s sake alone ... Let the Republicans be constructive and let us as legislators regardless of party approve legislation on its merits and for the best interest of Vermont.”
That was Rep. Franklin Billings, Jr., in 1964, who today might be labeled a RINO (Republican in name only) or a softie, but outlined an extremely reasonable approach.
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