Sunday, November 22, 2009

A plague on both their houses.

I'm officially disgusted with both political parties at this point. I've been a Democrat most of my life, and it's fair to say that I'm a social liberal and an economic conservative. I had hoped that, sometime in the last year, both parties would realize that it's time to stop demonizing each other's views and try to work productively with each other.

But I haven't seen that. Instead, I've seen polarizing votes and name-calling (on both sides); I've seen my own political party cave in on some long-term and deeply held principles; I've seen votes on bills that few (if any) people have read; and I've seen (at best) a shading of the truth by both parties when it comes to the projected effects of several bills.

What I haven't seen is a willingness to sit down and talk through the issues as if Congress cared about the solutions, rather than caring about whether votes on bills will affect re-election odds. I'm tired of people "so concerned with keeping [their] job[s] that [they've] forgotten to do [their] job[s]." See the clip from The American President here--it captures my feelings quite well. Although I don't agree with everything that Michael Douglas's President Andrew Shepherd says in this well-written speech by Aaron Sorkin, I sure agree with the sentiment that governing is all about character. And I haven't seen a lot of demonstration of character in our legislative representatives lately.

Look: I believe that the two things that help people overcome obstacles are good health and a strong education. I believe that the better-off should make sure that there's a basic standard of living for those worst-off, although I don't believe that government is always the right way to effect that redistribution of wealth. I believe that people who take excessive risks should bear the responsibility for those risks. (If their risks pan out, great; I'm a big fan of capitalism. If their risks don't pan out, though, they need to reap the consequences of those risks.)

But I also believe that we shouldn't try big, sweeping changes unless there are no other options. I believe that all legislation has unintended consequences of which we should beware (credit card bill, anyone?). I believe that probably no one understands the best way for our economy to recover and that therefore we should listen to a variety of ideas and not just to party-line rhetoric. And I believe that increasing taxes and reducing options for paying for uncovered medical services by reducing the cap on flexible spending accounts doesn't inure to the public's benefit.

As antediluvian as it sounds, I actually don't believe that everyone has a "right" to universal health care or that everyone has a "right" to a college education. There are rights, and there are "wish lists," and the two are very different. I do believe that a strong society should make all reasonable efforts to secure health care and education, but that--as with most things--there are tradeoffs of which we should be cognizant. Some of those tradeoffs include deciding at which point our deficit is so large that we should work hard not to increase it.

I do believe in raising taxes for certain objectives, but I don't believe in raising taxes as some sort of cure-all. (For example, I believe that Nevada needs to increase its tax base in order to diversify its income. Basing taxes on only one industry is a recipe for disaster.) And I believe that we should be very careful when raising taxes so that, again, we don't have unintended consequences. I'm particularly worried about small businesses and how they're going to survive in this recession. What are the mandates and increased taxes going to do to stimulate the economy? I'm sure that some increase in our taxes is necessary, but I doubt that we're raising taxes with a surgical scalpel. Instead, we're using a sledgehammer.

I'm tired of sound bites that blame the other party--EITHER party--for the nation's ills. I'm tired of sound bites that make the solutions sound simpler than they actually are. I'm tired of sound bites that pretend that fixing one problem won't lead to the creation of other problems. Most of all, I'm tired of Congress acting first and thinking second, if at all.

There are, of course, good senators and good representatives. I worry, though, that their voices are outshouted by those who are first in line for taking credit and last in line for taking blame.

Pretty much everything in this world comes down to character. Let's see if we can get our elected representatives to remember that.


Ben said...

Personally I would have thought it was ok to demonise the republicans a little. As the party of financial responsibility, they started a major war in Iraq that didn't need starting (costing $700 billion and counting) and were in office at the time that the weapons of mass financial destruction, CDO's were born and bred leading to the current global crisis.

Stephen said...

I think of the Republicans as an uncle who got into the rent money and went on a bender. The Democrats are like the aunt who got her hands on what was left and ordered pizza for her friends.