Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year 2013

This New Year arrived with the anxiety that Americans feel over what they are calling “the fiscal cliff”, alongside visiting with family and friends in Indiana and Pennsylvania.

The visits were good, although tiring. There is nothing quite like home after a long trip; but we enjoyed playing games (Lois and I each won a game of “Ticket to Ride” for the first time) and talking and singing (not nearly enough) and simply being with people we love.

Politics, on the other hand, were simply a source of anxiety. I have two primary concerns, recorded here once more.

First Concern: The American political system cannot work until Americans—and their representatives in politics—stop simply blaming their opponents for their problems. A simple example: Democrats blame Republicans for pursuing policies that will hurt the middle class and so destroy programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Republicans blame Democrats for pursuing policies that will hurt wealthy employers and so destroy programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Both sides set up the blame game in such a way that whatever happens they can blame the other side. But with the baby boom generation reaching the age that they draw Social Security and use Medicare in unprecedented numbers—with fewer taxpayers in the younger age brackets than before—the system will come under great strain regardless of who is in power, and regardless of what policies they pursue. There is no painless path into the future, given the demographic and economic realities we face.

A corollary of this is that the worldwide economic system is more responsible for the cycles of the American economy than we admit. Clinton should not receive all the credit for the good economic cycle of the 1990s, nor should Reagan for the same in the 1980s. Domestic policies make a difference, but larger forces are even more important. Therefore neither the Democratic nor Republican party can claim to fix the American economy without regard to what is happening around the world.

So first thought: Stop blaming each other and start looking together for policies and practices that will help us negotiate an uncertain policy.

Second: The two parties have adopted a strategy of seeking the total destruction of the other party. One sees this in the way that Tea Party advocates sometimes talk about Democrats as though they are not also Americans—“We need to take back our country!” From whom? The USA belongs to all Americans, not simply to those of the right or the left.

I fear this policy of total destruction. Republicans have adopted a hard line on immigration, giving voters who are recent immigrants the impression that the Republican Party does not want them. As a result, I think the Republicans will lose the long term battle. I don’t want to lose the Republicans and what they represent from our national conversation on policy. The conservative belief in individual responsibility, along with its willingness to listen to the lessons of history and tradition, are valuable traits we dare not lose.

And if the battle goes the other way we would lose just as badly. The Liberal desire to find equity and freedom for all people must remain in our national consciousness. The truth is that Liberal and Conservative, Democrat and Republican, share more than they realize. But either perspective becomes hegemonic and tyrannical if it is not held in constant conversation and tension with the other.

We need each other. The challenges of the future are too great for either party or ideology to confront alone. We will make mistakes, but we should make them together. Then we can correct them more quickly and productively.

My wish for 2013? Stop blaming; start working together; embrace each other all across the political spectrum; continue to work for what you believe is right, recognizing that sometimes you are wrong and your opponent is right. Happy New Year!

1 comment:

KGMom said...

A couple of quick thoughts--I agree with much of what you have to say.
I agree that the current impasse between the two parties is bad for the U.S. I agree that Social Security and Medicare needs attention--but there are things that can be done other than cutting the programs. A very simple example of something that could be done would be to raise the cap on Social Security tax. It cuts off at a particular income level, so higher earners only pay their tax portion up to a certain income.
I also agree that the Republican Party needs to survive. There are a few faint glimmers that maybe the core of the old Republican guard is still alive and may wrest back their party from the Tea Party extremists.
Your conclusion is a good wish for the new year.