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True or False: "We Are All Responsible"

By       Message Cameron Salisbury     Permalink
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It's happened again. Another well-meaning soul insisting that EveryOne is to blame for the mess that engulfs the U.S. politically, militarily and economically because in our political system, the country gets what it votes for. Therefore, "we are all responsible."

Some may get their kicks from an existential guilt trip, but please count me out.

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First, we almost never get what we think we voted for. Just a few examples: Remember George W. saying he'd be a "uniter, not a divider"? Before the vote he also said yes to more social programs, lower taxes and a balanced budget. Franklin Roosevelt said he'd keep the U.S. out of foreign wars and Richard Nixon said he'd end the war in Viet Nam.

Before election day, voters are bombarded with ads, negative and positive, and promises, some vague, some not. Complicating the process is the media which prefers sound bites to substance. Voters negotiate the mine field and cast their ballots for the person who does the best job of convincing them that he or she will fulfill their fantasy.

Every few years we go to the polls and pin our hopes on a Rorschach ink blot shaped like a person.

Don't blame me for this.

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Tens of millions of us had a lot to say, and we said it over and over, both in print and in phone calls to Congress, before our representatives opted to ignore our furious dissension and approved the Wall Street bailout. That act alone has been regarded by some as prima fascia evidence that American citizens are voiceless shadows in a mythical democracy.

Personally, I don't think I contributed to the problem.

We the people voted in record numbers for someone different, a self-proclaimed agent of change, and Barack Obama became president. Who is responsible for the disappointment that he has been to many? We elected him to change the way Washington behaves and he showed every indication that he believed he could. I'm not sure that he is responsible, either.

And I'm certainly not.

In the name of the U.S., atrocities have been and are being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the military and by an increasing number of heavily armed delinquents known as contractors who are accountable to no one. Congress has attempted to reign in the cowboys with what appears to be only marginal success.

The atrocities are both passive, as when sanctions result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, and active, as when Iraqi wedding parties are incinerated by drones. Obama is unable though, I'm convinced, not unwilling to reduce the out-of-control military and its over-the-top budget. The armed forces are a nation unto themselves and they usurp nearly 50 cents of every one of our tax dollars.

Should you and I shoulder the blame? If you believe that you are morally responsible, aren't you morally obligated to stop paying taxes? Let's see a show of hands for everyone willing to do this.

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We have a Supreme Court that says it's just fine for corporations anywhere in the world to buy a U.S. election. We have lobbying groups that keep us embroiled in Middle East politics, that fight health care reform tooth and nail, that keep the financial sector fat and happy while tens of thousands lose their jobs and line up at food banks. We have a cadre of powerful, unelected advisers built into the system, people like Karl Rove, Rahm Emanuel and all of K Street.

I didn't cause any of this. Did you?

Many people have responded to the dysfunction in Washington by joining groups like the Tea Party and openly oppose the influential, often appointed, government personnel that citizens have been stuck with. Since most such groups are ignored by the thumb-sucking media, their influence spreads wirelessly. At least for now. Corporations are doing their level best to wrangle control of communication space, too.

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Cameron Salisbury is a biostatistician, epidemiologist and grant writer living in Atlanta.

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