Clauses and adjectives fly back and forth in attempts to spear opponents. Verbs are parried and thrust, aiming for the weak spot in the logical armor of the arguments of the opposite opinion. Nowhere is there an attempt to gain understanding across the chasm of ideologies. And thus we continue this bifurcation of the political spectrum, with the extremes of the right and left pulling apart the middle who does not have a voice in the cacophony of political discourse.
The silent majority of the US does not identify either as a progressive socialist liberal nor as a libertarian follower of Ayn Rand. In early 2016, before the craziness of the latest election cycle played out, fully 42% of the US voting age population identified as independent. Only 29% were self-identified Democrats, and 26% were Republicans. Obviously, the ideologies of both parties are being rejected by a plurality of the population. Neither party appeals to a broad swatch of the voting-age citizens of the US. Yet it is the ideologies of the extremes that are driving the legislative agenda of government. And it is the fear of being primaried by a fanatic of one’s own party who paints an incumbent as being insufficiently ideologically pure that keeps pushing the parties further and further towards the extremes.
This skewing of the discourse towards the extremes is what is poisoning the well of civic dialogue. Of course you cannot ever dare to forge a compromise with the evil bastards of the opposition. If you do, you will be pilloried as a RINO or a cuck or some other derogatory term. We must maintain ideological purity at all costs! Who cares if the country falls down all around us, at least we kept ourselves pure.
Thus we get legislation that doesn’t address real problems, but is enacted through parliamentary tricks simply because it can be done. The mental gymnastics that were used in unsuccessful attempts to repeal health care, and the similar gymnastics that were used to ram a Trojan horse tax bill through using reconciliation in the Senate laid bare the legislative charade for all to see. This time it was the Republicans who used the tools to pass legislation that is deeply unpopular with the voters of this nation. A few years ago it was the Democrats who were unsuccessful in getting Republican participation in creating the Affordable Care Act, thus forever relegating that legislation to become a perennial target for repeal. It really doesn’t matter what the actual legislation is. The fact is that it has become impossible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because the power structure in both political parties has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
As this trend towards political extremism lurches forward, the side effects are becoming more and more toxic. The Republican party entered this year with majorities in both houses of Congress, and a (nominally) Republican President. Yet due to the constant pull towards the right, they were unsuccessful in passing any sort of repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What passed the House with its fermented tea influence was too extreme for the Senate to take up. What came out of the Senate still found enough disfavor with the shriveled moderate wing of the party, and the result was a series of embarrassing failures. All because the power in the Republican party did not accept the possibility of developing a truly bipartisan piece of legislation by working with Democrats.
The only success that Republicans had legislatively in 2017 came when they finally acknowledged the necessity to kiss the ring of their potentate, and accept a tax reform proposal whose only reform was to cut corporate rates, and sprinkle a little paycheck dust on the working class, while bestowing outsized largesse upon the donor class who keep greasing the gears of politics. The display of toadying that accompanied the celebration at the White House after passage was outside of my experience. The sound of sucking up heard on the White House steps rivaled only the sound of jobs being sucked down to Mexico after the NAFTA treaty (according to Ross Perot).
So what is it that the middle of the nation would like to see? What is it that those of us who are not party activists want from our elected officials going into the future? I can only speak for myself, but I can enumerate several items that I think would truly move this country forward again, instead of subjecting ourselves to bashing our heads repeatedly into concrete blocks like we’re doing now.
I’d like to see a real effort made to put the Social Security system on sound actuarial footing. A part of that would come from raising the earnings subjected to Social Security. A part might come from a small increase in the tax withholdings (say from 6.2% to 6.5%, increased by no more than 0.05% per year.) A part should come from examining the Social Security Disability system, since it has become a de facto welfare system that is rife with corruption ( See eastern Kentucky), and is the epitome of a debilitating system for those whose ambition in life is to draw a check. But I’d also like to see a new option added to Social Security, one where a fraction of a person’s withholdings would go toward purchasing an equity-based product, with the aim that eventually when a person retired, they would have an equity share in the nation’s economy that could either be converted into an annuity (Social Security Plus) or turned over to the control of the retiree. What would be better than to have equity ownership and the virtues of capitalism shared across the entire nation, instead of just the investor class. By the way, such a combination plan (partial privatization coupled with tax increases) just might find bipartisan favor, if someone had the guts to propose this.
I’d like to see a real effort made to increase the portion of the gross domestic product that is applied to maintain and improve our infrastructure. I’d like it to be set up for at least a 5 year period so that the private companies who will be doing the work will gain the confidence to invest in equipment and labor and training to ensure that we don’t get in a boom and bust cycle, which is a very inefficient way to spend money. The money for this infrastructure work should be local, state and Federally based, but the majority should be Federal funds. Perhaps an imaginative program could be made where local and state governments borrow excess Social Security funds and pay back at a lower rate than the bond market, but pay Social Security more than Treasury rates. And the money would be put to work, instead of sitting in a lockbox doing nothing (we should have done this 15 years ago).
I’d like a real attempt made to control medical costs. If someone were to design the most inefficient medical system possible, you may not top the one we’ve cobbled together. We apply costs to the companies providing benefits, hobbling their competitiveness, while begrudgingly providing one step up from charity care with Medicaid. Meanwhile, a relatively efficient Medicare system goes on but doesn’t ever become a model for expansion. I’d like to see medical coverage decoupled from employer provision, and a basic medical provision be made through the government. Insurance providers should serve as they do in Medicare, by providing supplemental coverage. They seem to do right well at that, given the volume of ads aimed at convincing seniors of their benefits. If you freed companies from paying and administering medical benefits, you really could unleash the competitiveness of the private sector. And someone needs to really look at the pharmaceutical industry since their costs keep growing exponentially in our current system.
I’d like to see a real effort made to reform the safety net. Not with the goal of eliminating it willy-nilly, but in making it more efficient with less administrative overhead, and making it family-friendly instead of placing barriers in the way of encouraging families and marriage. You want people to be encouraged to work, instead of causing them to avoid working to avoid losing some of their benefits. What we have now does not work well.
I’d like to see public school education valued instead of becoming the punching bag for every dissatisfied interest group in the nation. I’d like to see academic achievement placed on an equal standing with athletic achievement, and I’d like to see the culture shift towards making it cool to be smart. Something to yearn for instead of being the target of bullying.
I’d like to see a real review of our military and its mission and its financial needs. Some of the revisions sought by the President may be valuable and worthwhile, but his methods of bullying our allies while supporting the strongmen of the world is the wrong way to go. But do we really need military bases in so many places, supporting who knows what missions? The first time years ago I heard that we had an Africa Command I wondered who authorized this, and what is it doing? And while we’re at it, I believe diplomacy is more valuable than military might, so I’d like this evisceration of the diplomatic function to cease immediately.
Now, I know that this list (and it’s only a partial list) will be assailed as being agin’ the Constitution. So be it. My interpretation of the Constitution under the general welfare clause allows for functions to be undertaken without being specifically enumerated within a clause of the document. The world is a far different place than it was 230 years ago when the Constitution was written. If we are going to exist with our neighbors and our adversaries without going to armed conflict, then we need to adapt to the realities of the world today. We cannot afford to be ideological purists like we could when we were building this nation in the 1800’s. And besides, it seems like ideological purity caused our greatest internal conflict back about 1861. No, instead of a Tea Party reverting to original principles that won’t work in today’s world, we need a Pragmatic Party, working to deal with real problems in a way that allows for them to be solved while still allowing for regional and state differences in approaches. Who’s with me?