Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara Superintendant of Schools

We are all aware of the heated rhetoric and the ultra partisanship that seems to be driving our country apart right now. Simple things we all used to take for granted are being called into question — ‘politics as the art of compromise,’ for example, is no longer a working definition.

As the rhetoric gets more heated and extreme, it makes everyone less able to imagine middle ground as a positive place. We hear that government is excessive and needs to be stripped of its powers. In challenging economic times, it’s easy to forget how very essential government is not only to our society, but also to our economy.

A Harvard professor recently called out those who claim government has no business in business.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own,” she said. “Nobody.”

She explained how the entrepreneurial spirit is supported in essential ways by our government:

“You build a factory out there – good for you.

“You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.

“You hired workers that the rest of us paid to educate.

“You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

“You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

She then underscored a view of community and society that I believe a great democracy should celebrate:

She said that if you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or you had a great idea, you should keep a big hunk of the money you were able to make doing it. But part of the underlying social contract in a democracy is that you also take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.

In our democracy, government provides the foundation, through services and support, that enables all of us to go about our lives in a free and open society. Simple civics reminds us that members of a democracy also have an obligation and responsibility to each other. United, we work. Divided, it all falls apart in the end.

In Santa Barbara County, the good news is we have innumerable examples of public private partnerships in education that are considered state and national models. Perhaps political leaders in Sacramento and Washington should take note of our models for collaboration.

Nationally it is also heartening that such a large portion of Americans tell pollsters they want our politicians to work together to find solutions. They are not pleased with the partisanship and with the tearing down of our government. Most Americans are truly patriotic and truly love their country. They want it to work. Fortunately, in a democracy, the will of the people eventually prevails. So there continues to be real hope for all.