New York Senator William Marcy first used the phrase “To the victor belong the spoils” during a Congressional debate way back in 1832 as the country was headed into a painful forty years of division and extreme partisan politics. We are now on the day of arguably the most important election in my longish lifetime – an election that at local, state, and national levels will reflect the challenges and divisions we face across our country. In a body politic that is now defined by the extremes, what will the victors do? And will it be about the spoils or about changing course for the better?
In many respects, we’ve spent the last twenty years on the end of a yo-yo string. First the Republicans… then the Democrats…and then the Republicans felt they’d been victorious and given a mandate. The opposition resisted – sometimes with reason, sometimes in spite – and almost nothing material got done to improve the country. Two recessions, a long war, and a pandemic later, it’s clear we’ve been running in place the entire 21st century.
It’s important to note that this is not a “Democratic” or “Republican” trait. Both sides have extreme factions that have exacerbated the issues – and both sides have been willing to play politics with the welfare of the American people. Moreover, depending on where you live, Republicans or Democrats will be “victors” in tomorrow’s election. The political parties are here to stay. Instead, the real question is about leaders and how they choose to exercise the power they’ve been given. Is it about personal gain, job security, and party allegiance? Or is it about actually driving positive civic progress across the nation?
I vote for progress.
If we are going to meet the challenges we face – both in the immediate and the longer-term – our elected officials, regardless of party, have to behave like civic leaders. That means listening to others, engaging in meaningful debate, finding common ground, and pursuing policies for the greater good. Since I know that sounds Pollyannaish and naïve, I will venture into some specifics at the national level to demonstrate what must be done.
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