These are confusing times we live in. The Democratic president is escalating a war, confronting a union, advocating for torte reform, and angering his liberal base. The Republicans in Congress have attacked the previous (Republican) administration’s economic record, positioned themselves as champions of Medicare, and voted (all of them) against a $288 billion tax cut.
This year has featured a plethora of events I never thought (or hoped) to see in the United States; governors and state legislatures considering secession (treason), threats and suggestions of military takeover, and 300,000 residential foreclosures per month. Picture if you will my friends, what the reaction would have been had Rep. John Conyers screamed at Ronald Reagan in a joint session of Congress. Now think about what did not happen to Rep. Joe Wilson after his little escapade last month. Think about the votes you and I and several million others cast to put a large Democratic majority in power; none of us cast votes to give Senator Reid and Rep. Pelosi more power, we did it to get an agenda passed.
The confusion reigning in the rational middle this year is closely tied to how low the standard for this country has fallen. If you look at polls, you notice quickly that most of the time most of the people are disgusted with the two dominant political parties. This fact is manifest in the low numbers for party identification and the abysmal numbers for Congressional approval. Depending on the poll, no more than 30% of Americans now call themselves Republicans, and no more than 40% will label themselves Democrats. My ambivalence to party identification is easily described in the context of this year; the Democrats have proven their absolute weakness, and the Republicans have proven that facts and progress are less important than winning soundbite battles.
How low is the standard now? With Congress and the nation behind him, Teddy Roosevelt broke the backs of big monopolies, built a great Navy, created the National Park system, and established the United States as a power to be reckoned with on a world stage. With Congress and the nation behind him, Franklin Roosevelt led the country out of the Great Depression (before and without WWII folks), established the FDIC that probably saved your bank account last year, established the Social Security program that has allowed your elders to retire (ask them how that pension or 401k is doing), and built much of the brown water transportation and irrigation network that is, at the moment, sliding into ruin. For good measure, FDR then led us to victory in WWII. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system at a time in which the nation was dealing with a real debt level surpassing today’s. John F. Kennedy led us to the Moon in an adventure that established the market pressures that drove aeronautics, computers, and everything we do today with satellites. Ronald Reagan rebuilt, from the ground up, our entire military establishment at a time where the nation needed the debt spending the job entailed because of the terrible recession we were in.
What have done this year? We had a chance to establish effective 21st century financial market parameters…that was too much. We could have taken on the nation’s $2 trillion need for infrastructure repair and modernization….that was too much. We could have dealt with the world’s least efficient medical delivery system….nope, that was too much. We could have…we could have….we could have….
All of us have needs, individually and for our businesses. None of us like taxes, individually or for our business. So here we are, in possession of the greatest system of self-government in the history of the world, waiting for “the market” to fix what ails us. There is nothing quite like the Status Quo, and the Status Quo is nothing like progress. Previous generation realized that the United States needed to grow, and that the growth would eventually pay for itself. The Apollo program was far more expensive, in real dollars, than anything ever attempted by a government (anywhere) in peacetime. I would suggest that if you think it would have been better to let the Soviets get to the Moon first rather than “saddle our children with that debt”, then the Communist we need to worry about is not, in fact, in the White House. The simple point being, that we used to take on big challenges with the confidence that we Americans would make it work. Over the last 30 years, most politicians’ idea of a big challenge has been to figure out how not to do anything productive.
I guess that is why I am so confused…we used to be selfless and brave in this country.
The rational middle is waiting…