Few news stories are as inspiring as the one that broke Tuesday about 80 or so strangers along the Florida coast who quickly organized a human chain to rescue an entire family caught in a dangerous riptide.
Now imagine this: What if, when that family began screaming for help, the only people on the beach had been members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats on a beach excursion?
Would they have formed a bipartisan human chain, or would whichever party thought of that solution have faced instant opposition from the other side?
I hope they would have acted much like the diverse group of beach-goers in Panama City, who didn’t bother to ask about each other’s views before acting.
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Members of Congress, after all, are human beings. But when they are in their official capacity in Washington, other forces prevail.
Which is why, Scott Rasmussen would argue, Americans should wean themselves from the idea that politicians are supposed to solve all the nation’s problems. Real solutions are happening all around us, led by everyday people who take charge and quietly change the fate of the nation.
Rasmussen, a pollster who gained fame as founder of Rasmussen Reports, and who now is a Senior Fellow for the Study of Self-Governance at The King's College in New York City, came to my office Tuesday to promote his latest book, “Politics Has Failed: America Will Not,” published by Utah’s own Sutherland Institute.
Like him, the book is optimistic about the nation’s future. The airwaves are filled with lamentations about Washington’s inability to agree on any solution, whether the subject is health care, immigration or a variety of other topics. But if Americans looked around them, they would see everyday people figuratively forming the human chains to rescue us from treacherous waters.
Rasmussen turns to history to argue that this is ingrained in our national character. Around the turn of the 20th century, Washington spent years, and a lot of money, on efforts to develop heavier-than-air flight. Despite this, two young men with little money and no government support made it happen in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Forty years ago, Washington studied how to re-energize an economy suffering from what President Jimmy Carter famously called “malaise.” But thousands of miles from the shores of the Potomac, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were quietly at work inventing things that would revolutionize the economy and change the world.
Politicians have for decades formulized ineffective strategies to make the nation less dependent on foreign oil. Meanwhile, private sources developed technologies that quietly made it happen.
And on the health care front, Congress today is laboring over whether to repeal and replace Obamacare, arguing over this or that rule or policy. Meanwhile, regular folks are experimenting with solutions.
Cell phone apps can provide doctor consultations, complete with prescriptions, away from crowded waiting rooms, thus reducing costs.
A physician in Hayden, Idaho serves 400 patients who pay him a flat monthly fee. In exchange, they have full access to his services 24 hours a day, including medicines at no extra charge.
According to the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., the doctor’s patients no longer carry expensive conventional insurance, other than for catastrophic care the doctor cannot provide. Researchers at the University of Chicago say hundreds of doctors are using similar models for patient care nationwide, an end-run around the whole debate over universal insurance.
Technology and initiative will save us.
“We’ve built up this idea that politicians are supposed to solve everything,” Rasmussen said. “Washington can’t solve everything.”
Instead, he urges Americans to share his optimism and to join in the grassroots search for solutions. “Part of it is getting people to see what is already happening,” he said.
Rasmussen’s optimism is contagious, but it doesn’t extend to politics. The time is coming, he writes in the book, when “our political system will completely break down and need to be rebuilt from the bottom up.”
And yet, he remains “optimistic about America’s future.”
That is because everyday Americans will continue doing what Washington won’t — spontaneously forming human chains in dangerous waters to rescue people who desperately need solutions.