So the election is today and unlike 2008’s, I haven’t said much about it. This is primarily for two reasons. First, there was no Sarah Palin. I’m not a big fan of Romney, and like Ryan even less, but their existence in national-level politics isn’t offensive. Neither of them are stupid, lazy, or mean-spirited. I disagree with them on more topics than not, and even though many members of their party often make me feel embarrassed to be an American, they don’t.
The second is there’s just nothing left to say. As I’ve gotten older I’ve blogged less, probably, more than for any other reason, because I’ve grown less conceited. It isn’t that I can’t say something insightful, or well-written. It’s just because you’ve already read the same thing ten times, probably by people who are at least as insightful and better at writing. Ten years ago that was probably equally true, but I just didn’t know it yet, and sometimes I wish I still didn’t because I’d probably write more.
I’m also just not so sure the election matters anymore. To be totally honest, the Republican Party scares me a bit. The rest of the world is horrified at the thought of a Republican winning the Presidency, and it shocks me that half of America isn’t. This is a party whose policies have seemingly no relation to reality. Their answer to every problem is tax cuts for the rich, despite 30 years of that failing in America, and thousands of years of that failing around the globe. They attempt to stay in power not by doing what would best serve the middle class, but rather by disenfranchisement and convincing poor middle-Americans that whether or not gay people can marry is not only up for them to decide, but is also more important than their own economic welfare.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party is no prize. They’re the sort of party that would win elections in Europe, and I don’t think that’s a compliment. They’re willing to accept scientific facts like global warming, and they remember history and read papers written by economists enough to know what happens when you let the income gap get too wide. But on the really big picture items, like global warming, financial industry regulation, or the deficit, they either don’t have a clear solution, or if they do are unable to explain it to the country well enough to get it done.
The Republicans have chosen staying in power at all costs over sound decision making, and the Democrats have chosen statistics over leadership. We need a party with policies both firmly rooted in reality and practical enough to become law, and that party needs majorities in the House and Senate as well as the Presidency to get anything done. And if there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that nothing that happens at the ballot box today is going to make that a reality.
Take, for instance, our financial sector. Republicans are, on the whole, opposed to bailouts of any sort. (Never mind that Bush started the financial bailouts and signed TARP into law.) They’re opposed to government regulation of any sort to. (Never mind that the Hank Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and who probably was not a fan of government bailing out and nationalizing banks before the shit hit the fan on his watch was Treasury Secretary when the meltdown came and led the bailouts). Their policies, when you add them together, seem endorse letting banks grow too big to fail, then not bailing them out when they do fail, which is a surefire way to bring about a depression.
(If anything, though, I’m glad that when the meltdown did happen the people in charge chose what was best for the country over party ideology, and when you know your name is going down in the history books you’ll make that call every time.)
Democrats are in favor of regulation. And they’re smart enough to realize that a $700 billion bailout, while odious, has to be compared to the alternative, which could have been trillions of dollars worth of losses to the economy. What they’re not smart enough to do is explain to the American populace why the economy melted down (most people still don’t know) and as a result we’re still in danger of losing the Volcker Rule the minute a Republican sets foot in the Oval Office.
I’ll be the first to admit that I find nothing more trite and annoying than the fifty people you’ve already seen say “All politicians suck” in your Facebook feed over the last month. That’s armchair quarterbacking at its worst. And it’s a flat out denial of reality which is that politicians, just like the people who tanked our financial industry, are merely responding to their incentives.
We ask them to provide more services and tax us less, so they do, then we’re hit with a deficit (which is the only possible result) and we complain. Our country’s financial behavior is pretty much identical to that of the families that vote those politicians into office. Coincidence?
We ask them to make everything we don’t like illegal, then complain when they trample on someone’s civil liberties. We ask them to stop “redistributing wealth” then complain anytime someone threatens to cut Social Security. We allow corporations to spend money lobbying and buying political ads, then are shocked when they get away with whatever form of malfeasance.
And so in the end our politicians do what exactly we elected them to do and we say “these guys are all douche bags.” But in reality we have met the douche bags, and they are us.
In my opinion there are exactly two things our country needs to do, and neither of them are on the ballot. Neither politician from either party will enact them because both have a vested personal interest in the opposite.
#1. Campaign finance reform. This is the root of all American political evils. The funny part is most research seems to show that campaign spending has a negligible result on the outcome of an election. But politicians think it matters, and as a result we get Republicans who deny the existence of global warming and Democrats who are too afraid to hold teachers to any sort of measurable standard.
Laws like SOPA would never even be dreamed of by a politician who wasn’t getting campaign contributions.
Interestingly we have a bit of a Mexican standoff going on between our parties about this. Neither party wants to give up hundreds of millions of dollars. Piss off corporations and unions too much and fail to enact sweeping change and you might be handing the other party a huge campaign spending advantage. And Citizens United made it clear that we need nothing short of a constitutional amendment to enact real change.
And both parties take donations from major beneficiaries of current campaign spending. Regardless of who wins the popular vote, the real winner in an election year is whoever owns a television station in Ohio.
#2. Giving Americans a good fiscal education. It’s shocking how little the average American understand about economics, despite it being the driving force in the voting booth. Why do high schools not require 4 years of economics classes?
Again, neither party has a real interest in fixing this because neither advocates a sensible fiscal policy. Our deficit is so large that the only way out is clearly a cut in spending and in increase in taxes, and both parties hold one of those sacred and refuse to do the other regardless.
If I ever find myself an idle billionaire, these two, in order, will be the first things I turn my attention toward fixing. I believe that campaign finance reform alone is enough to get our country on the right track.
So that’s why I’m no longer even optimistic enough to feel like it matters anymore. Either way I think we’re looking at a rough twenty years. And don’t even get me started on the shift to post-scarcity economics. I’ll save that for my next long-winded, unedited rant.