Bipartisan Political Dysfunction and a Public Health Tragedy

Residents carry free water being distributed at the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 20
Residents carry free water being distributed at the Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in Flint, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. The city gets tap water from the Flint River, but residents have complained about the smell, taste and appearance. The city says the water is safe to drink. The federal government, however, has cited Flint for high levels of a disinfectant byproduct. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A recurring theme today among millennials is a critique of the contemporary political system as one not worthy of the investment of time or energy via voting and a concurrent diminishment of the voting franchise itself. To many the political system and by extension government has become the problem not the solution.

Unfortunately, there are many presidential candidates who encourage such apathy by either actively promoting aggressive voter suppression efforts or by spewing policy pronouncements that are petty, vindictive, or antithetical to any concept of representative democracy. Their prescriptions only facilitate further political polarization amongst a population that is deeply divided.

The current state of dysfunction afflicting our political processes is both real and discouraging, however failure to engage in remedying these faults will continue to perpetuate a system that has lost its focus with respect to protecting and enhancing the public interest. It is imperative that the populace plays an active role in demanding that public servants rediscover their inherent roles and responsibilities to serve the public because the cost of neglect is ruining the world our children will inherit.

No clearer indications of a public policy system that has clearly left the rails are the systematic poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan and the natural gas leakage currently sickening residents in Porter Ranch in California. In both instances, inadequate and borderline criminal actions by governmental institutions and government officials have contributed to circumstances which place the residents of both places in peril. Actions or lack thereof have consequences and those who are asked to shoulder the burden of those consequences all too often are the most vulnerable in society. But the inevitable conclusion of the residents is the same: namely, nobody cares about us. Government officials and institutions have simultaneously failed to do what is their primary responsibility which is to keep the people safe. And in these cases you have bipartisan malfeasance.

When regulators become pawns in a chess game played by political actors or politically appointed managers of governmental agencies blindly serve either political or special interests with little or no regard to the public interest they are perverting both the letter and the spirit of the oaths they solemnly swear to uphold when they are installed in those positions of trust. That large swaths of the population lose faith and confidence in their leaders and institutions is justifiable and rational, but the answer is neither to withdraw from participation in a corrupt system nor to attack the system. The appropriate response is to replace the current leaders by demanding their replacements uphold a higher set of principles that place the public interest above special interests.

Our system of representative democracy is conceptually and foundationally solid but its perversion lies in the incompetence and arrogance of those who are chosen to lead it. Candidates that support abandoning the system offer little alternatives that are practical or preferable. Feeding off the fear, anger and frustration of a populace that has lost confidence in our government is like shooting fish in a barrel, which is a rigged game. What is needed are policy alternatives that seek to reform the system not destroy it.

In the meantime, we are systematically poisoning not only the political environment but the air and water that we breathe. Whether we continue to rely on an outdated and fatally flawed economic paradigm that relies on cheap energy via fossil fuels or a decaying political paradigm that relies on the power of money and special interests, we are placing our children in harm's way. Those responsible for such recklessness must be held accountable and pay a price for having practiced such treachery.

For too long we have allowed money and the corrupting influence it renders upon our political processes to rule the day, whether it is big tobacco, big oil, big pharma, Monsanto, or the legions of lobbyists that control our elected officials on a daily basis. A true revolution is needed to instill in the body politic the notions that statesmanship, long-term thinking, the public interest, and the quaint notion that government can work are noble and essential.

Until we do we will continue to suffer the consequences of a system directed by leaders who have no interest in our health, safety and welfare. This is beyond tragic, it is totally unacceptable and those responsible ought to be prosecuted either in a court of law or the court of public opinion.