Politicians never learn. They just don’t. They might be, for all intents and purposes, the most highly educated and least intellectually malleable group of human beings that have ever existed. I’m not joking. It doesn’t matter their party affiliation, they are, almost every single one of them, afflicted with the same destructive tendency to constantly make political calculations while seemingly being perpetually married to the inability to put aside their own personal interests and ambitions for the greater good of the people they serve. They consistently choose their political viability over the interests of their citizens, apparently being incapable of learning anything aside from the ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth while keeping a straight face.
It’s disgusting, callow, tone deaf, cynical, selfish, embarrassing, anti-productive, and honestly, disheartening to witness.
On Tuesday, in a true electoral shocker, a Democrat named Doug Jones defeated a Republican in the one of the reddest, most conservative states in the entire country. The voters of Alabama didn’t just reject a terrible Republican candidate in Roy Moore however. In fact, polling data suggests that was only a small part of why Doug Jones won. The bigger, much more important message they sent than the obvious, “we don’t support purported pedophiles”, was the one delivered to Washington and seemingly accepted by the same politicians who would betray that message not even a day later.
With their ballots Alabamians said that they were tired of the smallness of our politics. By rejecting Roy Moore they showed that they were fed up with the debilitating partisan rancor that has poisoned our discourse and devolved our democratic debate. In choosing a candidate who sought to unite rather than divide, who chose inclusivity and civility over repulsion and disrespect, the voters of Alabama said that they were over the cynical politically calculated divineness that has increasingly infected and diminished the effectiveness and dignity of our public servants.
Yet not even 24 hours later, nothing had changed. This fact became crystal clear to me while I was watching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testify on Capitol Hill regarding the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election meddling by the Russians. With each passing word of each statement that Republicans and Democrats made during the hearing it became obvious to me that no lesson had been learned, that no accurate reading of the political tea leaves had been ascertained by the people who needed it most. It was evident to me that however tremendous the electoral earthquake that rocked Alabama the night before was, that its tremors had not reached Washington, D.C.
What I witnessed watching the hearing amounted to nothing short of the purest form of partisan political spectacle that I have seen in quite some time. The sad thing is, the performance wasn’t being performed by political talking heads, but instead by elected officials who were doing their best to play the role of political blowhards. A group of politicians who were more interested in producing sound bites that could be used in their next campaign advertisement than the objective fact finding Congress is tasked to do in their oversight responsibilities of the Executive branch…and let me tell you, they nailed the performance.
But in doing so they failed all of us. Miserably. Completely. Profoundly. They failed us.
With each withering, politically calculated statement they uttered, they diminished the legitimacy of the hearing they over saw and the dignity of the office they occupy. With each partisan attack they launched toward Mr. Rosenstein, they destroyed, word by word, whatever confidence we could have that they were apolitical overseers of an investigation of profound importance to our country. With each interruption of Mr. Rosenstein, they proved that they were not there to listen, but to talk, not to find answers but to assess blame on the basis of incomplete facts. With each sharp retort to an answer they did not agree with, they proved over and over that they were not there to accept fact as it stood, but to bend truth to their opinion. Over the course of the hearing, Democrats and Republicans alike, proved once again that they are incapable of learning anything aside from some ill conceived form of self-preservation.
The most disheartening thing about the entire spectacle is that in their behavior and their dereliction of duty our representatives only helped to diminish our democratic institutions further, which ironically was the intent of Russia whose intervention into our election was the reason the oversight hearing was occurring in the first place. What good is the separation of powers when one branch will not even admit we were attacked by an adversarial Russia and another abandons its oversight duties? By being unable to take off their partisan caps and retreat from their respective corners, both parties failed all of us again and proved how truly tone deaf politicians are and how deafening the echo chamber in Washington really is.
When our elected officials are more interested in scoring political points than securing our democracy, who will save us the next time our democracy is under attack?
America’s democracy is strong, but it is not impenetrable. Just because it can bend and stretch, flex with the passing of time and accommodate change that might destroy another country’s governing institutions, does not mean that it cannot ultimately be destroyed. While it has weathered many storms over the past two centuries, there is no guarantee that it can or will weather whatever storms may come. On Tuesday voters in Alabama stood up and said enough is enough and in doing so reminded all of us that when our institutions and values are threatened, the best defense we have is the over 300 million Americans not serving in our government but who occupy the office of citizen. On Wednesday, with their political grandstanding and refusal to put the interests of the people ahead of their own, a collection of our representatives reminded us that we cannot be disengaged or complacent in our duties as citizens. If those currently holding office will not protect our democracy, then ultimately that duty falls upon all of us to be those, as President Barack Obama said in his farewell address, “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy”, and elect representatives that will join us in our common defense.