Can We Expect Our Politicians To Ever Grow Up and Get Things Done?

Isn't it time Republicans and Democrats set aside their differences for the good of the nation?

Every presidential election cycle in the US (at least in recent history) there has been a huge political battle over ideology. We are led to believe that our lives hang in the balance depending on who we choose for the next president based on their unique tax and spend policies. Often the choice ends up being irrelevant however, because whoever is in power ends up having their hands tied by an uncooperative US Congress.

Yet both Democratic and Republican presidents have demonstrated that they can accomplish great things when they have cooperation from their opponents. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan both exemplified the fact that when the government truly works together we can meet enormous challenges.

Sometimes perhaps it takes the realization that we are all living on borrowed time to wake us up to the fact that we argue over trivialities and ignore the 900 pound gorilla in the room. The Western world in fact should have been destroyed in the year 1995, and by all rights none of us should even be here, if it were not for the wisdom of one man.

On January 25th, 1995 this man was awakened from a sound sleep, in the dead of night. He was neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He wasn’t even American. His name was Boris Yeltsin.

President Yeltsin’s top generals woke him up and told him that the nation of Russia was under attack by a nuclear first strike from the United States. For the first and only time in Russian history, the seals on the nuclear launch codes for strategic missile forces were broken and Yeltsin was told he had ten minutes to choose a response. A SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile) had been detected by Russian early warning systems, coming from a U.S. submarine off the coast of Norway. It looked like an expected form of attack as the opening salvo of a nuclear exchange, where one warhead would be exploded high over Russian territory to send out an electromagnetic pulse or EMP, that would disable Russian military command and control systems in preparation for a full scale nuclear launch from the US.

Yeltsin was told he had only minutes to decide how to respond before it was too late. Unlike tradition in the former Soviet Union, where the opinion of senior military commanders has usually been trusted and followed without much question by civilian leaders, Yeltsin didn’t trust what he was hearing. An attack on Russia by the U.S. made no sense to him. In another fabulous stroke of luck for the fate of the planet, he also wasn’t drunk at the time. He refused to be coerced into a hasty response and demanded confirmation before ordering a retaliatory strike, even though there wasn't time to do so.

Double checking soon revealed that it was not an attack at all. The U.S. had in fact notified Russia two weeks earlier that a scientific experiment using a Trident missile was being undertaken to examine the upper atmosphere. For some reason however, the notification sat on a junior military commander’s desk in Russia and was never passed up the chain of command.

The wisdom and self-control of a man often reviled in the Western press prevented the start of a nuclear holocaust that few people were even aware of then or are today. What if Yeltsin instead were an influential US senator, or presidential candidate? How easily would the press be able to tear such a flawed character apart? Would such mud slinging impact on his ability to do his job and move the country forward?

We give very little freedom for failure or the simple fact of being human to politicians in the US. How well has this worked so far? How many perfect people have we found to lead us forward? We’ve conditioned our political leaders like a bunch of rats in a maze, unwilling to stand up for a vision beyond their party or “base” of supporters within their party.

James Madison was right as a Founding Father when he orchestrated the creation of a government where opposing views directly conflicted with each other. It prevents tyrranical rule that history is ripe with.

In Madison's time however, I believe that men like Yeltsin would have been accepted and worked with despite their flaws, for the sake of moving society forward. In our time, political races have become a Roman “bread and circuses” where we watch our champions tear each other apart. The violence of the Romans was ultimately their undoing. It’s a path we still have a chance to deviate from if we can remember the examples set by others, even if they were leaders in nations we considered our sworn enemy for nearly a century.