The amusing and somewhat discouraging federal government stalemate this past week proved on thing: We need some leadership and we need it badly. My favorite quip during this fiasco came from Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, who observed, “Our country was founded by geniuses but it’s being run by idiots.” Insightful and apparently true.

What really bothers me is that we seem glued to the idea that our federal government can’t seem to make a long-term plan (or budget) and stick to it. Each of the 50 states manage to pass a working budget each year. So do counties, cities, school districts and townships, all over the country. How hard can that be? And, more importantly, why does this happen with our federal government? The simple answer is money. And lots of it.

In a court case known as “Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission”, the U.S. Supreme Court, in January 2010, on a five to four vote, decided that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations, labor unions and other associations. In many ways, that effectively made those entities the same as people. And, it allowed their money to flow without much accountability. It think it’s pretty clear that corporations, unions or associations are not people.

The result of this disastrous, short-sighted Supreme Court decision is that our federal elected officials have become totally addicted to chasing money. With every possible challenger for every federal elected office doing the same, our incumbent elected officials have no choice but to do the same. Over and over there are stories of our congressional representatives, of both parties, spending huge amounts of time, every day, begging for campaign contributions. With a two-year election cycle, those in the House of Representatives are on the chase for money full time. Their campaign machine never stops.

So how is that different from before “Citizens United”? After all, politics has always had an element of getting one up on your opponent. Well, it now means that everything has become about posturing for getting something up on the other side of the aisle, to the point that almost nothing productive and meaningful ever gets done. The country’s business goes untended and any sort of long-term thinking is only something that used to happen but cannot happen anymore.

The solution to this mess seems simple: change the law that allows this charade and empowers the most powerful and most moneyed interests, no matter who or what they are. Will that happen? That seems hard to imagine. Our national leaders would have to forego the very money that put them in office and keeps them there. And doing so would place them at risk of losing their jobs and their influence, however little it may be.

It would take the kind of courage that is almost never displayed in Washington these days. It would take the kind of leadership that is capable of putting together a federal budget for an entire year or two, not just a band-aid resolution to keep the lights on for another month. It would take the kind of leadership that does not allow the government to shut down when agreement on solutions to our county’s many challenges and opportunities doesn’t come easy.

That kind of leadership would require vision, courage and a willingness to compromise for the best interests of the county and its people. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of that kind of leadership in Washington these days.

I think the senator from Louisiana was right. We should all be a bit embarrassed about our wonderful country’s poor leadership. 

On a much lighter note, after dodging a bad snowstorm this week, we’re now at that time of the winter when things start to heat up. The days are getting a bit longer, a January thaw comes along and it’s time to shake off a case off cabin fever.

This year’s Ole and Lena Winter Fest again kicks off with the Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce’s annual community celebration and banquet on Saturday night, at the Rock. The event features comedian Roger Radley. Tickets are available at the Chamber office in the K.K. Berge building and at the door. 

YME Snow Week activities will be underway next week and other Ole and Lena activities are taking place next Friday with the annual Lutefisk Buffet at Prairie’s Edge Casino Friday evening and a full day of fun on Saturday, beginning with the annual pancake breakfast sponsored by the Kiwanis Club and Bert Raney Elementary School at the Minnesota West cafeteria. That’s also the site of the annual craft fair and the Sons of Norway’s Norwegian crafts and foods. There’s a Buck Euchre tournament at the Rock that afternoon and the annual Firemen’s Dance at Prairie’s Edge Casino on Saturday night featuring Granger Smith and the Shane Martin Band.

It’s great to have plenty happening to help warm the winter chill.