The most presumptuous phrase in contemporary American politics is "this is what the American people want!" When utilized by any party or politician, it asserts the fallacy of a broad sweeping homogeneity among our citizenry. It assumes that we all think alike and share an identical world view. It implies that only a privileged few are qualified to promote a vision for America’s future. This is not a new phenomenon. This proposition was challenged by Langston Hughes in the poem "I, Too, Sing America" written in 1932 and in Ralph Ellison’s "Invisible Man" published in 1952. Unabashedly, all of the un-town hall meetings, fabricated e-mail blasts, robo-calls, tea party demonstrations, congressional insubordination and violent calls for revolution demonstrate that the status of authentic American citizenship is reserved only for a select few who look and think a certain way. And in the eyes of these American "purists," the government must be compelled to cater to their every whim and wish.
Here’s the fact. "What Americans want" is constantly in a state of flux. Depends on the day and which news source you choose to shape what you think. Depends on the season and your current tax bracket. Depends on the way the wind blows and which poll you decide to quote. Some Americans feel as though their voice has been heard for the very first time. Some Americans feel as though their country has been robbed from them during a cultural coup d’etat and they have vowed publicly to get it back by any means necessary. Some Americans are still disengaged. Is it possible for one person or party to speak for all 300 million of us?
And since the political landscape is riddled with so much opinion, subjectivity and instability, should what Americans "want" always be the object of our political pursuits in the first place? Isn’t one of the reasons for the financial collapse of 2008 the fact that too many Americans got exactly what they wanted? As we enter another Holy Week, I am reminded of the public celebration during Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Biblical scholars agree that the same crowd that cheered Christ on Palm Sunday were largely the same voices calling for violence on Good Friday. Any pastor, Sunday school teacher or believer will agree that people will never develop proper values or discipline when they always receive exactly what they want.
Regardless of your interpretation of the Constitution, our government does not exist simply to carry out the desire of a few people. Otherwise, slavery would have never been abolished. Sometimes governments and leaders have to do what is unpopular for the good of nation. President Abraham Lincoln found this to be the case as state after state seceded from the Union. President Dwight Eisenhower discovered this when he made the courageous, unpopular decision to order the 101st Airbourne Division to escort the Little Rock Nine as they desegregated the Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Though the "American people" were against it, the unpopular lame duck president, George W. Bush did what was needed at the time when he signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, a.k.a. the government sponsored Wall Street bailout. And now, President Barack Obama, amid cries of socialism, fascism and communism, has forged ahead to secure health care for 95 percent of Americans while reducing the national deficit with one stroke of the pen. Nearly 67 million Americans voted for this duly elected government to act decisively. Currently, it’s not what some Americans wanted, but perhaps it’s exactly what all Americans need. Only time will tell.
It doesn’t matter what part of the political spectrum you reside on, government at its core is designed to be solution oriented. At every level, the country faces enormous problems and many of the solutions have been and will continue to be unpopular. I’m grateful however, for men and women who have decided to govern without regard for their political futures. We need government that solves problems rather than denying that they exist. We need government that develops solutions no matter who gets the credit in November. We need a government that asks hard questions and provides difficult solutions rather than shifting blame and name calling. Georgia needs a solutions-oriented governor. We need a solutions-oriented board of commissioners. We need a solutions oriented board of education. I don’t care about their race or their party affiliation. In the name of civility and sanity just bring the best possible solutions and you’ll have my vote. After all, a vote should be a constructive tool not a vindictive weapon.
Eric Lee is the pastor of Springfield Baptist Church.