There's a lot of anger out there.
Whether you're talking the nationwide tea party movement, angry congressional town hall meetings last summer, rock-bottom levels of trust in the federal government, or a backbencher congressman shouting "You lie!" to the president during a joint session of Congress, the country is seething.
Is all that anger a good thing? Will it help to solve the unprecedented problems this nation faces? I think we should all take a few deep, relaxing breaths, and maybe consider a paradigm shift.
Let's look at the tea party movement. By associating themselves with those early Boston patriots, the main goal of the movement is for the masses to take back our government and restore power to the people.
The goals of the movement run into some factual problems, however. The claim is that the government is not representing the will of the people -- but yet there is not a single member of Congress who was not elected by a majority of the voters in his or her district. The ability and ease of every citizen to vote has never been greater than in 21st Century America. This ease of voting is accompanied by a distressing lack of participation in that sacred responsibility in modern America - and Utah is statistically close to the bottom. Comparison of today's tea party movement with those early patriots, who really were subject to tyranny without representation, seems a little disrespectful to those patriots.
Trust in government, especially at the national level, is at a record low. Suspicion of efforts towards health insurance reform are not based on any lack of recognition the current system is hopelessly broken, but on a belief that government involvement will botch it up even worse.
The anger is understandable. The ability of Congress to do anything of substance has been dismal for over a decade, and the federal government has mishandled everything from hurricane relief to providing adequate health care to our wounded soldiers.
Why are things so broken? Let me be blunt. In modern America, the government is not run by some "new world order" conspiracy. It's run by us, the American people. We have the government we deserve. The problem is not that our government is out of touch; it's that our representatives, sadly, represent us all too well.
There are three types of citizens in America today: Those who are apathetic, the angry ideologues on both sides, and finally, thoughtful, pragmatic Americans who insist our leaders pursue thoughtful, pragmatic solutions to our problems. Unfortunately, that last group seems to be in hiding these days. It should come as no surprise that members of Congress reflect those who sent them there.
This was highlighted for me a year ago when I had the privilege, as a representative of America's automotive suppliers, to attend the historic House finance committee hearing that questioned the CEO's of the Detroit Three in Washington. There were a few very impressive folks on that committee who asked intelligent, probing questions. The rest were pompous, arrogant, angry blowhards who were obviously performing for the camera. I was frankly embarrassed for America that day. And yes, angry. But I was not angry at the blowhards. I was angry at we, the people. How could we be so dumb to collectively send people like that to the most important lawmaking body in the world?
Here's the deal, Utahns. If many of us are too apathetic to take our responsibilities as citizens seriously, and a large number of the rest of us get our information through the narrow lens of anger and resentment of partisan talking heads; if we mistrust government and demonize public service to the point that good men and women will refuse to serve -- then we will have the government we deserve.
That last one is critical. Candidate recruitment is getting more difficult every election cycle, because good people who run have horrible experiences with the meat grinder of hatred and anger that accompanies politics today.
But if we collectively abandon our apathy, tone down our rage, demand the truth and accept unpleasant truths, discard rigid political ideology, work to study and understand the issues in an unbiased and non-partisan way, and insist on common-sense solutions that share sacrifice and create justice and fairness for all Americans -- we will also have the government we deserve.
It's our choice. It's time for us to collectively look in the mirror and realize that in America, the government is us.
Olsen is the chairman of the Weber County Democrats. http://weberdemocrats.org