Pogo rightly said, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” It is time to stop laying all the blame of the paralyzed and head-in-the sand approach to politics and public policy making that is afflicting the U.S. at the feet of members of Congress, although they certainly bear their share. We should acknowledge our own responsibility for this state of affairs whether we choose to exercise our right to vote or not.
The reason for the utter refusal of Republican members of the House to agree to any increases in taxes under any circumstances for anybody and to block and reflexively and vociferously decry almost anything President Obama tries to do is plausibly ascribed to their unshakable and justified belief that if they not do so they will not be re-elected. They will inevitably lose in the next Republican primary to an opponent who swears he or she will stick by this unyielding, no compromise, take no prisoners position and will therefore garner the majority of Republican primary voters.
So the question is why do these voters, our fellow citizens, endorse this reprehensible, utterly unrealistic, and deeply destructive stance at the primary ballot box or fail to vote against it? Are they ignorant of the connection between Government revenues and the services they pay for on which everyone depends? Do they subscribe to the theory that the Government’s revenues are bound to increase monotonically every time tax rates are decreased and correspondingly decrease if these rates are increased? Do they believe that the Government wastes so much money out of inefficiency, corruption, and/or on programs that at best serve no useful purpose and at worst harm them that it can get by with much less? Are they fixated on Government as being the source of all evil and a fearsome threat to their values and well-being so that it is imperative to reduce the size and scope of Government (except of course the size of the defense budget)? Or are they just plain ignorant and seduced by the well-financed propaganda of special interests that subversively appeals to their prejudices and pretends to represent their values and needs while in reality these interests only care about feeding the greed of a handful of wealthy people?
I suspect that a mix of these factors and beliefs is at work. I am particularly struck by the frequency of the “false equivalency” argument as expressed in statements such as that the country is hopelessly polarized between the left and the right who are both unable to talk to each other or see any validity in the others’ points of view. First of all there is no real “left” left of any size or consequence in the U.S. by the criteria and standards that define the “left” in the rest of the world. But more importantly it is the Republican party and people who call themselves Republicans who are hopelessly intransigent and unwilling to compromise or pay any attention to evidence that may contradict their faith in false gods and ideas, such as that the U.S. system of health care is the best in the world for all Americans.
In contrast Democrats and Americans who identify themselves as “liberal” or “progressive” are typically and more often willing to rely on evidence and modify their positions in light of additional facts while striving to build agreement to implement pragmatic solutions to resolve or at least mitigate major problems. President Obama has been criticized by other Democrats, liberals and progressives, not for negotiating, even with Republican politicians and right wing extremists who regularly vilify him, but for yielding too much to Republican obstructionism that relies on blackmail (we will bring the government and the economy down regardless) as a, or even the major weapon in their arsenal of tactics.
The U.S. is not divided between two implacably opposed camps. It is divided between one camp of intransigents and the rest of us. The rest of us embrace a wide and diverse range of opinions, backgrounds and experiences. But while we differ we nevertheless share beliefs in the values of compromise, tolerance of diversity, learning from others, and balancing our personal rights with our obligations to our fellow citizens as well as to our immediate families, neighbors, and colleagues.
In contrast the Intransigents reject these values either because they are corrupted by their own greed or in the name of an allegedly noble ideological purity. Their constant invocation in an unshakable and impervious manner of words and phrases such as “freedom”, “Second Amendment Rights”, “free market”, “Government-run health care” etc. as the bases of their positions to avoid serious and honest debate of alternatives and possibilities is reminiscent of the arguments I had as a young man with French Communists in the 1960s. They too clung to simple prescriptions. In their case these prescriptions involved anti-capitalist and anti-American sound bites ( and sometimes long-winded theses), fueled by a blind faith, in their case in the Soviet Union, despite all the evidence of gulags and the other horrors of that regime that had come to light by that time.
The future of the U.S. is being imperiled not by paralysis induced by a stalemate between two irreconcilable camps but by one appalling collection of selfish individuals and organizations and their ideological allies who have succeeded in fooling significant numbers of Americans that they are fighting to uphold basic democratic, family, and entrepreneurial American values and to fend off assaults by various demonized enemies such as “liberals”, “atheists,” “Socialists”, “elites,” “mainstream media,” et al. But in reality these individuals and organizations are only pursuing their own lust for money and power and trying to eliminate the checks and balances introduced into our polity by the Founding Fathers. They care not at all or very little for the actual interests and values of most Americans. They are trying to ensure that all that counts in setting public policy, laws and regulations is their version of checks and balances, namely who can write the largest checks on the biggest financial balances. They have not yet succeeded in reaching this goal, but they have made substantial progress down this path over the past 25 years.
Enough of us must wake up, especially Republican voters, and choose reasonable men and women to represent us and make it clear that unreasonable and unreasoning men and women will not be re-elected. The truly fanatical members of Congress must be thrown out. Otherwise a coterie of powerful, highly focused special interests motivated by greed and a desire to be free of any obligations towards others or towards the broader society they too depend on will continue to block and even reverse the slightest efforts at progress and frustrate the application of tolerant commonsense to reach long overdue decisions and launch desperately needed short-and long-term initiatives.