Claire Swinarski
April 19, 2016 10:22 am
Ron Tom/ Getty Images

Our IRL presidential election season is pretty crazy. It’s left me and many of my friends feeling a combination of super frustrated and very helpless. But after binge-watching Parks and Recreation in its entirety (thank you, Netflix), I feel like my Pawnee friends have taught me a few essential things about government that can be directly applied to the 2016 election.

Don’t believe everything you read. When Leslie Knope was on Pawnee’s City Council and trying to add fluoride to Pawnee’s water, Councilman Jeremy Jamm accused her of trying to turn children into, “bad-at-math, communist fluoride zombies.” You see, Jamm is a dentist and didn’t want fluoride to help protect citizens’ teeth. Although we know how easily words can be twisted, if anyone in Pawnee had done a simple Google search, it could have revealed the truth about fluoride. The moral of that story? Don’t let grand-standing get in the way of facts.

Follow your conscience, not your desire to pick the winning candidate. Leslie wanted to instill a soda tax, which she believed would help curb obesity in Pawnee. In response, the company making the huge sodas threatened to start a recall campaign against her if she passed the tax, as it would cause them massive layoffs. Although the town was split pretty evenly on the tax, Leslie didn’t kowtow to pressure: she voted with her own morals. The lesson here: Don’t focus on political consequences if it’s going to cause you to do something you don’t believe in. (Ahem, voting for someone because you think they can win, instead of voting for them because you think they’d be a good leader.)

Consider the real outcomes of politician’s statements. When Ben Wyatt was elected mayor of Partridge, Minnesota, he had bright eyes, big dreams . . . and an empty bank account. His passion for the town led him in the wrong direction, and he ended up blowing the entire budget on a winter sports arena called Ice Town. Were his intentions in the right place? Sure! But he wasn’t thinking about long-term effects. In sum: Always listen to a politician’s plan in addition to their ideas.

A mistake doesn’t ruin a person’s entire political identity. Leslie was far from perfect. For example, she approved a bailout for a video store that later turned into a porn shop! But instead of drowning in self-loathing, she moved forward and came up with a new plan to ensure that Pawnee citizens still had access to art without supporting a sexist industry. Dig into anyone’s past and you’ll find moments they said the wrong thing or changed their mind. It’s essential to focus on how they handled it, not simply write them off for an error.

The people with the most extreme views often shout the loudest. The citizens of Pawnee are eccentric, to say the least. Two of its most loudmouth residents are Marcia Langman of the Society for Family Stability Foundation, and Brandi Maxxx, an adult film star. Whenever there’s some kind of political issue brewing, Marcia and Brandi are on a talk show or at a town meeting discussing it, and their views are both on the extreme ends of the spectrum. Leslie’s usually trapped in the middle. When you feel like you’re surrounded by loud opinions from crazy people, remember that most people can see both sides of an issue but simply lean one way stronger than the other. Those people just aren’t typically the people being interviewed by Anderson Cooper…or in Pawnee’s case, Perd Hapley.

You can, and should, stay friends with people you vehemently disagree with. One of Leslie’s best friends is Ron Swanson, a major libertarian. Throughout the course of the show, Leslie and Ron disagree on tons of political issues, but it doesn’t mean they can’t support each other and enjoy a waffle on a regular basis. In fact, they often learn from each other and open each other’s eyes to situations they hadn’t considered. Even though they still disagree at the end of the day, their friendship was stronger than their disagreements on taxes or the role of government. People are a lot more than their political beliefs, and it’s entirely possible — even beneficial — to have friends that have different political leanings.

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