In his 2007 book, “The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800,” historian Jay Winik writes that among Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, none “believed in political parties, which they feared would lead to ‘rage,’ ‘dissolution,’ and eventual ‘ruin’ of the republic...”
The latest poll from the Pew Research Center, “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years,” seems to indicate that the American people have come around to their way of thinking.
The poll, writes The New York Times, found that “the share of self-identified Republicans has declined over the last two decades to about 24 percent of the country, from about 31 percent. The share of Democrats has stayed about steady — to 32 percent, from 33 percent — while the share of independents has risen to 38 percent, from 29 percent.”
And while “Americans of different races are no more polarized in their political views than they were 25 years ago,” suggests the Times, the poll indicates that “Republicans have moved farther to the right — on economic issues, at least — than Democrats have move to the left” and the parties “appear to have lost some of the people who were closer to the middle of the political spectrum and retained those closer to the extremes.”
In short, more Americans are ditching the big two political parties, leaving hardliners behind. The result? Political stagnation. So much for well-reasoned debate and consensus. So much for moving the country forward.
What appears to frustrate voters is that not enough members of either party seem capable, or interested, in solving our problems. Instead, their primary concern appears to be achieving and holding onto power and the perks of office. Democrats answer the problem of increasing debt with more debt. Republicans want to reduce the size and cost of government, but won’t make meaningful cuts. The media play a major role in perpetuating the gridlock by mostly ignoring solutions, focusing instead on the political horse race and the names politicians call each other.
The response from Democrats to a serious proposal for repairing health care as proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was a TV ad in which an actor portraying Ryan tossed an elderly woman in a wheelchair over a cliff. This is not a serious response to a serious proposal. It is street theater.
A major reason for government’s inability — even unwillingness — to repair its own dysfunction is that we are still living off the inertia of government’s central role during the Great Depression, and later “The Great Society” in which government presented itself as everyone’s savior. Personal responsibility for one’s life and accountability for wrong decisions took a back seat.
“A Time for Governing: Policy Solutions from the Pages of National Affairs,” a new book compiled by the quarterly journal, National Affairs, contains essays that address credible solutions to our major economic problems that nearly everyone, regardless of party affiliation, acknowledges must be solved for a stable American future.
In his essay “Beyond the Welfare State,” National Affairs editor Yuval Levin addresses the heart of the problem: “Human societies do not work by obeying orderly commands from central managers, however well-meaning; they work through the erratic interplay of individual and, even more, of familial and communal decisions answering locally felt desires and needs.”
Levin adds, “In our everyday experience, the bureaucratic state presents itself not as a benevolent provider and protector, but as a corpulent behemoth — flabby, slow and expressionless, unmoved by our concerns, demanding compliance with arcane and seemingly meaningless rules as it breathes musty air in our faces and sends us to the back of the line.
“Unresponsive ineptitude is not merely an annoyance. The sluggishness of the welfare state drains it of its moral force. The crushing weight of bureaucracy permits neither efficiency nor idealism. It thus robs us of a good part of the energy of democratic capitalism and encourages a corrosive cynicism that cannot help but undermine the moral aims of the social-democratic vision.”
Is it any wonder the public decreasingly identifies with either party and that a growing majority wishes to be “independent” of both? It will take more than the election of a new president and Congress to fix this. It will require a new way of thinking — which is really an old way of thinking — by “we the people.”