Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The pox of politics
A week to go, and the election-year slime-storm has reached full intensity. If you want to know why we have such a low opinion of politicians, watch an hour of prime-time television. Democrats insist their opponents want to destroy Social Security, eviscerate Medicare and throw granny off a cliff. Republicans insinuate the governor is at the least an accessory to murder and his fellow partisans never met a dollar they didn’t want to take from those who made it.
No matter the outcome on Nov. 4, the stereotypes this nonstop character assassination engender — or reinforce — will remain. Cemented even more firmly into the local and national psyche will be the idea that Democrats are a bunch of weak-willed, tree-hugging nitwits, eager to grab money from the successful to give to ne’er-do-well followers in return for votes. Conversely, that Republicans are mean-spirited homophobes who don’t like women either, and are perfectly willing to squeeze the “little guy” in the name of corporate profit. No wonder many Americans declare “A pox on both your houses.”
Except that doesn’t work in a country with a government like ours. To successfully govern ourselves, we have to at least hear each other and put the welfare of the nation first. This will require agreement on some basic truths about our country: that it is, in fact, exceptional; that it is basically good and benevolent, not evil and predatory; that it has the power to accomplish great things, if its citizens agree.
Self government also requires awareness of human nature and economic principles. We must understand — as the founders did — that mankind tends to self-interest, is attracted to power, and will lie, cheat and steal to gain advantage. That governments, being human instruments, are not protections against these faults but amplifiers of them when given enough power. That budgeting is about choice and priorities; “next year, 5 percent more for everything” is a formula for ruin. And if we value freedom we must accept at least some social and economic inequality. To use the words of Andrew Jackson, co-founder of the Democratic Party, “Equality of talent, or of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.” A lesson his party has been striving to unlearn for a while now.
Why was Ronald Reagan so successful? It wasn’t his background; he wasn’t a member of a political dynasty. Or his education; he was the antithesis of a “Harvard man.” Or his deep pockets; his wealth was quite modest. But he believed in this country; in its basic goodness, its power and its ability to achieve great things. His messages were simple and mostly positive. Contemporary politicians might take a page from that book.
This election is not about a mythical “war on women.” If it were, the accusation would hardly be credible coming from a party whose lionized senior leader is, to put it delicately, a serial sexual predator. Nor is it about the minimum wage, the “one percent,” or even Ebola. There is only one overriding issue in this election, and it is mechanical.
For six years, the president has gotten exactly what he wanted from Congress. In the first two, it rubber-stamped his every proposal. For the last four, Democrat control of the Senate assured gridlock. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refuses to allow bills originating in the House to move to a vote or amendment, it isn’t the Tea Party holding things up. And refuse he has: according to the Indianapolis Star, as of mid-July the count for this Congressional session was 330 bills stalled.
This suits the president fine. Absent legislation, he gets to rule through executive orders, without pesky legislative interference. Spending is on remote control with annual adjustments for inflation, so from EPA regulations to amnesty for those here illegally to free rein for tax collectors and federal law enforcement, there’s no one to say him nay. As a result, racial and class divisions inside the country ratchet up; there’s more uncertainty, more distrust, shriller dialogue. Externally, there’s doubt and confusion: our allies rightly ask if we will be there when they need us; our opponents are invited to bolder challenges by weakness and vacillation. The wrecking couldn’t be more perfect if it had been planned.
It’s time to stop. We need divided government with backbone, one which engages in debate on the major issues facing us, presenting clear alternatives to the present drift. We won’t get that with Harry Reid running the Senate, so he must go — as must the president’s pet senator, Mark Udall and — to make the point — at least six of his cronies. And a Republican House must be preserved.
That’s the only thing that matters in the next seven days.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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