What Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope teach us about the necessity for political ideological balance
The antidote for the current angst in the American political rancor is Parks and Recreation. Everyone should be required to watch an episode. Current news programs, whether it’s FOX or MSNBC, anguish rather than promote discussion of the current government shutdown, debt ceiling limit, Obamacare, etc. Perhaps tuning into a primetime favorite will not only soothe anxieties, but educate the American public on what good politics looks like. The relationship between Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson sheds light onto how we can all get along a little better.
Ron hates big government. Leslie believes in more government. Yet, somehow they both manage to have barbeques on the weekend and work together on city budget during the week. In fact, one could argue that they are each other’s greatest allies. Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Obama may not be having joint family barbeques on the White House lawn anytime soon, but perhaps one of them can at least pass the mustard when they’re asked. They need to get along better. Bringing their unique perspectives would make a better and more effective Parks Department, or er…federal government. For example, in the episode “Sweetums”Swanson states, “Leslie needs to butt out. The whole point of this country is if you wanna eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds, and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! You are free to do so! To me, that's beautiful.” But in the subsequent episode “Eagleton” states, “Leslie has a lot of qualities I find horrifying, but the worst one by far is how thoughtful she can be.”He disagrees with Leslie ideologically, but admires her character in his own sarcastic way, allowing him the ability to work with her on civic issues in a civil way. Tender.
Knope and Swanson get it. They recognize although not overtly, that ideological balance is necessary for maintaining a functioning Republic, even in the microcosm of Pawnee. Without a balance in both thought and politics, individuals combined into one mass, especially one mass movement, become asymmetrical in their judgment and values. Political movements are not the norm throughout most of the history of American politics and are usually denounced as troublesome, as was abolitionism originally for example, or even un-American, as in the case of socialism or communism. However, if and when one force or movement becomes politically more predominant than others, then the polity is moved as it heavily tilts to one side—opening it up to legislative movements and eventual anarchy and even tyranny if the forces of liberalism and conservatism are not brought back into balance. Once differing perspectives are understood and appreciated, we can are work towards mutually beneficial solutions.
Balance is the key word here. The problem is that the Republicans have apparently forgotten this. And so have the Democrats. Demonizing one another only breeds more frustration, confusion and contempt rather than collaboration and civility—the type of civility that Knope and Swanson exercise on a daily basis.
Without conservatism’s voice to effectively balance the liberal conversation, they become regarded as ‘progressive’on the aggressive American political stage.
If the analogous relationship of Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope to the current Republican-Democrat emotional constipation doesn’t inspire, perhaps the immortal words of Star Wars’ Qui-Gon Jinn will: sensing the inevitable collapse of the Jedi Council, his dying words to Obi Wan Kenobi echo these Swanson-Knope sentiments. He exhorts, “He... is the chosen one. He... will bring balance. Train him.” Without recognizing the need for and maintaining ideological balance, demagogues are more easily able to hijack and manipulate the American public---after all who wants to listen to Darth Vader?