For people who pay attention to government and politics (regrettably, that isn't everyone), the last week was unusually crowded with events. During the first three days, there was the Iowa caucuses, the State of the Union address, and impeachment vote in the Senate. Two of those are a matter of routine, but even the impeachment vote wasn't a surprise. It was obvious there would be a vote last Wednesday.
Even though the events weren't unanticipated, they did not disappoint when it came to providing drama. To put it bluntly, and mildly, there are too many people who are politically involved who also seem to condition that involvement on politics being a soap opera. Last week was an embarrassment of riches for individuals so inclined.
It was also an embarrassment, period; no modifiers needed, no conditionals required. With any single incident, you might be able to find a justification, explanation, or rationalization for it. Poor planning on the part of the Iowa Democratic Party, which led to circumstances that make it appear that in the world's champion of democracy, we can't even practice it properly? That can be reasonably explained away by human error and a change in process.
A State of the Union speech before which the President of the United States refuses to shake the hand of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the same speaker engages in some unbecoming stagecraft? It is understandable that emotions are running high and even people who have found their way into leadership positions might succumb to the temptation to abandon discipline and decorum. Petty and ridiculous reactions to the impeachment vote? It was almost inevitable that the line between acquittal and exoneration would be blurred by some people, erased by others, or simply ignored by still more. Taken together, though, all these incidents provided more than catnip for political junkies. More destructively, when taken collectively, they add to the disillusionment and pessimism of the American public regarding "the system."
For those of us who have been in the political arena - who have held on office, are involved in a political party, have volunteered for a candidate, who are avid consumers of news, who attend rallies, meetings, and other political events - it is dismaying to see all of this happen and have people's worst preconceptions about government, politics, politicians, bureaucrats, political parties (both of them) and "the system" reinforced. It may seem like even the people involved in those things are demoralized. Maybe their preferred candidate didn't win in Iowa. Maybe they are appalled by the behavior of the president or speaker. Who knows? As last week demonstrated, there is plenty to be demoralized about.
But there was one shining light last week. (I can't stress enough that this is separate from any consideration of guilt or innocence on the part of the president, or whether the House did the right thing in voting to impeach him.) That light was the senator from Utah, Mitt Romney. Regardless of a person's opinion on impeachment, it needs to be recognized that, right or wrong, one person in Washington, D.C., found his way to voting his conscience, knowing there would be hell to pay for it. In times like these, when people have reached the point that they assume people who put their names on ballots are inherently and irretrievable corrupt - and never consider the possibility that some may want to serve their community, state, or country - Mitt Romney provided a reminder that courage and independent thought are not completely absent from American politics.
Jason Nichols is District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.