Frida Ghitis: People everywhere fed up with politicians


First Posted: 7/29/2011

People have run out of patience with the government. Chat with someone in the street, at a party or a restaurant, anywhere, and you hear the same complaint rising from a grimacing face: We're fed up; had more than enough of irresponsible, unreliable, dishonest, self-serving officials in government.And where does this growing exasperation with the country's political leaders prevail? Everywhere. The sense of disenchantment and frustration has settled into the solar plexus of everyday people from Washington to Westminster, from Tahrir Square to Topeka, Kan.We may just be living through one of those stages of history where the people start dismantling an old era and begin the construction of a new one.We won't know for some time whether new ideas and ways succeed in overtaking the old, but it is clear that a global political crisis is underway. The spectacle of debt talks in Washington, the hacking scandal in Britain, and the popular uprisings in the Arab world may seem unrelated, but beneath each of them lies a sense of rage at governments that cannot be trusted.In the United Stated, the country's top leaders, wrangling over a legitimate decision about how much money the government should spend, have seemed more concerned with their own political standing than with the risk of creating, knowingly, an avoidable catastrophe for the nation and for its people. The efforts of pollsters and pundits to measure whether the president or congressional Republicans would emerge the winners in the contest showed the cold calculus in the manufactured crisis.In Britain, the toxic fumes of the News Corp phone hacking scandal refuse to dissipate not just because of outrage about the media's egregious violation of privacy, but because its cloud casts a bright, ugly glow on the relationship among top government officials, police and influential media organizations. It confirmed suspicions that politicians have bowed to the wishes of powerful media figures to help them stay in power. And that police have set aside investigations in order to please media masters. It's not just about the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch but, as in the debt ceiling negotiations, it's about individuals sacrificing the greater good for personal gain. It's about a political system failing a test of integrity and competence.Even the horrific mass murder in Norway, a right-wing terrorist attack, betrays a failure of the political establishment in Europe to address an issue that has preoccupied large numbers of their citizens. The leaders of major traditional parties have been afraid to openly and effectively discuss the anxieties many people feel over mass immigration from Africa and the Middle East.As a result, the field has been ceded to extremist politicians, who have often shaped their arguments in inflammatory terms. None of them is directly responsible for the actions of one man. But the massacres show how the topic will force its way on the agenda, no matter how much politicians try to dodge it. So far, the political system and mainstream politicians have failed miserably in dealing with the uncomfortable issue, hoping it will disappear if they ignore it or deflect it by mumbling platitudes.In the Middle East, the revolts target dictatorships, so they might seem like completely unrelated to what is happening in the West. But many of the same forces at work in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere are at work there: people who have had enough of their corrupt and ineffective governments, moved by growing frustration and mobilized with the help of new technology.That new technology may, in fact, be part of the problem in the West, where the Internet provides the echo chambers that breed intransigence. Everyone jumps on the web or on their favorite cable channel to hear their own ideas repeated and validated; to hear differing views vilified and ridiculed. It's an environment that makes compromise increasingly difficult.The polarizing changes in technology have converged with the after-effects of a global financial crisis now forcing belt tightening around the world. Politicians, facing tough decisions, fail to impress.It's no wonder the ratings of Congress and the president are sliding. It's no wonder that neither of the main political parties managed to garner a majority in Britain's last election, that no coalition in the Netherlands was able to put together a parliamentary majority, that protests have broken out in European cities.People everywhere, fed up, want competent and reliable leaders. The people, as angry crowds have chanted in so many places, demand change.Frida Ghitis writes about global affairs for The Miami Herald. Readers may send her email at fjghitis@gmail.com.

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