Opinion: Government will remain broken until we are willing to listen

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    We have reached a critical point in American politics today. The country is attempting to recover from an economic crisis. We face serious questions regarding the future of healthcare, education and social security. If there has ever been the need for government to work well and work quickly, it is now.

    Unfortunately, that does not seem to be a very high priority in Washington at the moment.

    Instead, the dialogue among politicians seems less about solutions to the issues facing the nation and more about the ideological differences between the parties. In fact, politicians often resort to openly insulting one another.

    For instance, following the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya last week, presidential candidate Mitt Romney used the tragedy in an attempt to discredit President Barack Obama and gain support for himself.

    "I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values," Romney said, according to the Washington Post. 

    He accused Obama of not taking a strong enough stance against the terrorist act and called the administration's response to the attack "disgraceful."

    Regardless of your opinion of how the United States should respond to such an attack, one thing is certain: Romney's use of the deaths of American citizens in a terrorist attack to jockey for positioning in the polls is absolutely outrageous.

    However, the Republicans are not the only ones guilty of such shameless attacks.

    Obama's campaign staff includes a self-proclaimed "Truth Team." Their objective, as stated on their verified Twitter account, is to "get the facts and fight the smears." However, as of Sunday evening, two of their most recent tweets were linked to editorial pieces by writers criticizing Romney on his tax plans and foreign policy. I may be deluded, but should the "Truth Team" be concerned with the truth and facts instead of opinion pieces portraying an opposing candidate in a negative light?

    These types of attacks and accusations are not surprising. They are typical and expected during any political campaign. But the problem is that the rhetoric does not stop after the election. When Congress was to vote on the Affordable Care Act in 2010, two years after President Obama took office, Republicans were decrying the proposal as a move toward socialism, while Democrats called Republicans cruel for trying to withhold health insurance from people who could not afford it.

     
    The result? The bill passed and was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, but the parties became further estranged from one another and entrenched in their own positions. Health care joined a league of other issues in American politics where there could be no middle ground. There could be no room for discussion.

    If politicians were elected to criticize the merits of another party's platform, then none of this would be a problem. However, that is not their job.

    We elect our politicians to represent us in government. Their job is to represent our views, however diverse. That means making laws that are in the best interest of American citizens, which, despite what many politicians may have you believe, necessitates compromise. The failure of politicians to listen to opposing viewpoints and admit that they may be wrong is the real problem in American government.

    Many will say dialogue and debate are important, and that we need leaders with opposing viewpoints to create a balanced government. That is certainly true, but when those viewpoints become dogmatic and incapable of understanding, government ceases to work properly. 

    "It surprises me still to hear people express amazement at the hyper-partisan nature of Congress and its resulting inability to deal collectively with the nation's problems," Mickey Edwards writes for CNN. 

    The fact is that our government is broken and will remain that way until we stop running our mouths and learn to listen.

    As students, we must do our part to begin affecting such a change. When you talk to people who disagree with your political beliefs, ask them why they believe what they do. Do not talk. Do not interrupt. Just listen. And maybe we will begin to understand each other better. That is a start.

    Matt Jennings is a first-year journalism major from Lawrenceville, Ga.