Building sandcastles in the surf

Published 10:49 pm Friday, January 24, 2014

By Rep. J. Randy Forbes

Years ago, I was with my family at the beach sitting several yards back from the water.

Ahead of us near the shoreline, two small boys knelt down playing in the sand just inches from where the foamy cusp of the waves receded back into the ocean. The boys used red and yellow buckets, packing sand together and flipping them over into small mounds.

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They were “building” sandcastles, but mostly they just fought over the buckets and hit each other with their shovels. In fact, they spent more time snatching the buckets from each other than they did perfecting their architectural craft.

As I watched these boys argue over how high to stack the sand and who was going to use the blue shovel, a wave much bigger than all the other waves came racing to the shore, crashing up over their shoulders and washing away every grain of their sandcastle.

After the wave receded, they sat staring at each other and the small lumps of sand that remained, and they didn’t say a word. I can imagine what they were thinking. Why did we spend so much time fighting over this sandcastle that we didn’t even see the wave coming?

Isn’t this a picture of Washington today? Spending time arguing about sandcastles without paying attention to the massive wave roaring towards the shoreline? Rather than working in consensus-building mode, Washington operates in spin mode. Instead of gritty working sessions, Washington holds flashy press conferences. Rather than finding common ground, hours are spent crafting the most cutting sound bite.

But as Washington fights over buckets and shovels, major waves roar in on the horizon. Every moment spent bickering over castles in the sand threatens to wash away our very core beliefs and the things we have worked towards for hundreds of years.

While failing to resolve defense cuts under sequestration, waves threaten to wash away a core constitutional tenet to provide for a common defense. National security is at stake.

While enormous amounts of resources are being used to convince Americans to buy into an unworkable program like Obamacare, waves wash away opportunities for medical discovery. America’s health care system is at stake.

While focusing on short-term budget fixes and failing to address our ever-growing national debt, waves roll in, threatening America’s fiscal prosperity. Our nation’s economic stability is at stake.

While Americans are chastised for standing publicly for their faith convictions, waves roar in threatening to knock over an important American pillar. Religious liberty is at stake.

“Isn’t it exhausting?” people often ask me. “Why would you want to be in such a messy environment like Washington today? Why is it even worth it to be a part of American politics?”

I never hesitate as I look them in the eye: It is crucial that we get the politics right.

Washington is messy. In many ways, it’s not working. American politics has become defined by the bickering, the sleight-of-hand tactics and the jabs. Politics has become the thing we abhor, instead of the catalyst to create the best possible future for our nation.

John Adams once said, “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

The nature of politics in Washington needs to change, and not merely because it’s exhausting to listen to politicians argue over buckets and shovels. It needs to change in order to have the best possible future for our nation.

Our Founding Fathers didn’t work to create our democracy because they thought they would win the talking point wars, or because political life was glamorous or popular. They did it because they believed that it was crucial to fight for a concept called freedom and to build a nation that was, as Thomas Jefferson said, the greatest hope of the world.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at