What follows is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but was finally convinced to do so by Paul Krugman’s excellent op-ed piece from The New York Times on April 10th called “Where Government Excels.”
With characters like indefensible lunatic Ted Cruz and libertarian sell-out Rand Paul on one side, and Hillary “Political Dynasty” Clinton and Bernie “democratic socialist” Sanders on the other, the 2016 presidential election is already off to, well, an interesting start.
For me, observing these candidates and near-candidates has made me more aware than ever of the impossibly huge rift between the casual insanity of the Republican Party and the well-meaning incompetence of the Democrats. What hangs in the balance is nothing more or less than the trust of the American public in the government that (ostensibly) represents them, their interests, and their continued well-being.
Why “ostensibly?” It’s simple: politicians don’t represent us anymore—a fact made possible because people don’t vote. And people don’t vote because politicians don’t represent them anymore.
Do you see where I’m going with this? During the mid-term elections last year, the Republicans enjoyed a sweeping, nationwide victory not seen in many years, and secured a Republican majority in both houses of Congress not seen in even longer.
But this wasn’t made possible because people voted; it was made possible because people didn’t vote.
And yet these Republicans set out the very next day on a frankly ridiculous victory tour, indicating that “America has spoken.” They also seemed to want credit for an economic turnaround years in the making.
I’ll give it to you straight: if you judge these politicians on their words and deeds, they easily rank among the most venal, corrupt, out-of-touch, tone-deaf, and ignorant human beings that have ever been allowed to hold public office.
And then there’s Bernie Sanders. But that’s an article for another day.
A Battle for Optimism
Also at stake in the coming presidential election is the very spirit of optimism that used to permeate American life and inform everything we do. The tablet held by the Statue of Liberty—the unmistakable sight that once served as the very first landmark for immigrants bound for Ellis Island, claims that this land was built in the name of the world’s poor and huddled masses. It was built to extend an opportunity unlike anything the world had seen: a home in a country where a man or a woman could stake their claim, and who would be afforded a variety of basic human rights and dignities to help them do just that.
So let’s take a look at the modern Republican agenda to see how it stacks up against America’s original mandate, shall we?
To do this, we need to consider the absurdity of the Republican platform. We have here a group of individuals who work for the federal government, but who tell us every chance they get that system they serve is fundamentally flawed, untrustworthy, and full of crooks. And yet, they still demand our trust.
Imagine if the cashiers at Chik-Fil-A started telling every customer, “Don’t eat here—it’s not chicken!”
But even worse than this hypocrisy is the pessimism inherent in the GOP’s political philosophy. Not only are they telling the American public that the government is fundamentally broken, but they’re also preaching to us that it will always be so. In their attempts to scale back the size, scope, and ambition of the federal government, they actively sabotage the possibility of improvement. Instead of making an honest attempt at fixing our culture of mass incarceration, they move to privatize prisons. Instead of having a rational debate about climate change, they waste precious time bickering over semantics.
What the GOP gives us is a crazily inconsistent and borderline insane worldview: This thing will always be broken, so why bother trying to fix it? What they fail to realize is that the problem lies with them alone—not within the DNA of the system itself.
Here’s an idea: if it’s broken, fire the people who broke it, and fire the people who aren’t interested in progress.
What Is the Role of Government?
It’s popular in America right now to blame the government for every one of the country’s ills, to categorically distrust every duly elected politician, and to continue voting for the party that believes in this same miserable worldview.
I was raised by Republican parents, and therefore grew up believing that the government should have little role in our day-to-day lives. This is really the backbone of the GOP platform, and something I gladly endorsed for far too many years.
But then, thankfully, I grew up. Take a look through history and you’ll find that the federal government has always been the failsafe, the ultimate safety net that provided not just theoretical peace of mind, but also real-world stability for Americans attempting to navigate the capricious waters of capitalism and self-determination. This was always supposed to be a place where people could take risks in the name of building a better future. And the government was supposed to be a helping hand through it all.
Now imagine a world where that doesn’t exist. That’s what the Republicans want, and right now they’re on track to have it their way.
The Soul of American Politics
Make no mistake: the Democrats truly have their work cut out for them. They need to convince an increasingly cynical American population that the government does, indeed, do a bunch of really great things really well.
Here I’ll defer to Paul Krugman, who points out that health insurance is something that’s done exceptionally well at the federal level. Both Medicare and Medicaid are “substantially cheaper and more efficient” than their private sector counterparts. And if you can believe it, the bureaucratic burden is less imposing as well. The reasonable American would look at this success and say something like, “Maybe Obamacare doesn’t sound so terrible after all.”
And the reasonable Republican? Such a creature probably wouldn’t try (and fail) to repeal the Affordable Care Act 50+ times.
Krugman also demonstrates why the government excels at retirement security—an argument I won’t reproduce here. The simple version is that Americans should be doing more to ensure that they retire in comfort, but the reality is that they don’t. More accurately, they can’t; people can’t save for retirement because wages haven’t kept pace with the cost of living. Moreover, employers everywhere are dumping private pensions in favor of lackluster 401(k) plans. Social Security is designed to fill that gap, and yet all signs point to a GOP-led attack on the program.
I shouldn’t even have to even say this, but there’s a reason why the Republicans have a monopoly on the word conservative. They are the party of arrested development. They are the party of good enough and more of the same. But whatever else they are, the Democrats actually have vision. They are the party of now is the time and we can do better.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your kind attention. Above all else, please remember that what’s at stake in 2016 is not just which man or woman gets to sit behind a big desk; it’s a fight for the very soul of American politics.