As the 2012 presidential election draws closer, we are beginning to witness the trash talk and negative campaigning that we all have become familiar with in the past.
But this path assuredly will only deepen people’s disgust with politics and public life, and their belief that we cannot get things done in the country. And it ignores the basic fact that people hold genuine aspirations for their lives and communities that they want to act on and make real.
In interviewing people for our new Main Street study*, I am struck by people’s yearning to re-engage and re-connect with one another. They know that in these topsy-turvy times they cannot go it alone. They want to find a way to restore their belief that as individuals, and collectively, we have the ability to get things done.
So, before the candidates embrace the strategy of destruction, they should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves a basic human question: “What do people fundamentally want in their lives, in public life, and from one another?”
I would ask each of us to do the same.
For going down the path of destruction may help to take down an opponent, but it will never serve to build up a community or the country. On this path, we may demonize and push each other into a corner, but we will never figure out our shared beliefs and work to improve people’s lives.
Let me be clear: I am not arguing for anyone to capitulate or be passive in today’s public square. Rather, I am calling for real leadership, in which, for now, we find even small ways to get this country moving on a better trajectory. In this regard, Washington, D.C. and our state capitals may be the last place where such positive movement occurs. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us must sit idly by and watch – and wait. Each of us can step forward now, turn toward one another, and start to demonstrate what is possible.
Maybe, then, our presidential candidates will see what we really want from them. And maybe then we will all feel like we’re moving the country in a better direction.
*Main Street is a national study we are undertaking to inform a new “public life” report with the support of the Kettering Foundation called Citizens and Politics II slated to be published later this year. You can read Citizens and Politics I here.
A dynamic public speaker, Rich Harwood is a frequent keynote for foundations and national organizations. He is an expert contributor on national and syndicated media outlets including MSNBC, NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN’s Inside Politics, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Special Report with Brit Hume, C-SPAN, and many others. He is also the author of Hope Unraveled: The people\’92s retreat and our way back (2005), Make Hope Real: How we can accelerate change for the public good (2008) and numerous studies, articles and essays chronicling vital issues of our time. His most recent written work, Why We\’92re Here: The Powerful Impact of Public Broadcasters When They Turn Outward, is being published and distributed in Spring 2011. You can follow him on twitter @RichHarwood and facebook.com/richharwood.
You can read Rich’s posts every Tuesday on State of the Re:Union’s website.