Facing A Problem Of Community In Governance

by Raphael Bostic

Orignally posted on Forbes.com 5/17/2013 @ 6:00PM 

At church the other morning, the pastor’s sermon was about community. She asked us to look at what kind of relationship we had with others in the community. Had we taken time to talk with others and get to know them better? Only by doing this, she argued, could we strengthen both ourselves personally and our community.

Now my pastor was talking about the church community and the community of God, but it occurs to me that the same question could be asked of our governance bodies – our city councils, state assemblies and senates, and Congressional bodies. What is the quality of these communities? Are they strong? Strong enough so there is enough trust to find solutions to difficult problems, weather hard times together, or even just get basic things done?

I think I share the view of many that feel that the notion of community within our governance bodies is not strong, and in some instances is weaker than its been in a long time. We see this for sure at the national level. It is telling when the President having dinner with members of Congress is top line news. The co-chairs of the ill-fated deficit reduction supercommittee, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Jeb Hensarling, did not know each other before being given 10 weeks to solve the entire federal deficit problem. Hard to imagine how this was going to end well.

Why has this happened? The 24-hour news cycle and “combatant” news networks and programming are one source of the problem. Those talking with others can be relentlessly attached as traitors to the cause and even worse.

Elected officials certainly have to ask: Is it worth the trouble?

But more subtle things are at play as well. At the federal level, for example, members of congress spend much less time in Washington than they used to. This trend began in 1994 and led to members much less frequently brining their families with them during their time in office. Without families nearby, there are very few chances to see other members as regular people with similar cares and concerns as opposed to harsh enemy ideologues.

This state of affairs has to change if we are to have a more functional government. But how? In coming entries, I will highlight a couple of things that have been done to try and remedy this. But I am curious if you have suggestions of your own on causes or solutions to this problem of community in governance.