“Culture Wars” in the USA show how politics will have to realign
It has been a very interesting last couple of weeks in the US election cycle. If you live outside the USA you will probably be getting snippets of what is going on, but perhaps not the full picture. If you live in the USA and are getting the news 24×7, perhaps a bit of longer-range perspective will be of interest.
Let me lay my cards on the table first so you know where I am coming from. I am a “no-label” sort of person. If I could register to vote in the USA (I can’t because I am not a citizen) I would be registered as Independent (the fastest growing group of registered voters in the USA by the way).
I am a social “liberal” bordering on libertarian. I am a free market person but as a means to an end to make as many lives better as possible. I believe in a strong social safety net and I believe that in the modern age a country should be judged in part on how it looks after the weakest and most disadvantaged.
But I am also an “individual accountability” person and I believe that (for example in free healthcare) people will need to begin to feel the consequences of their choices – if you continue to smoke, I am not paying for your 3rd heart bypass.
I believe that the State should not interfere with religion and churches – but I believe that if churches decide to become “employers” then they must be subject to those rules first.
I also believe in (relatively) balanced budgets and think that national debts and poor governance are leading slowly and inexorably towards an economic crisis that will make the current challenges seem trivial. But I can’t subscribe to the “trickle-down only” approach espoused by many on the right.
You can see that I don’t have a political party in the United States that I can align with completely.
This is, in part, how the United States democratic system is supposed to be! A broad range of opinions are represented by a broad range of people elected to Congress. Some nominal Republicans are more “liberal” than their Democrat peers. Many “blue-dog” Democrats are more conservative than some Republicans. Above all, interested in re-election and therefore representing their electorate, these Representatives are supposed to be able to vote freely on issues depending on their point of view.
In that way most politics in America depends on bi-partisan compromise. The other part of the Legislative branch (the Senate) and the Executive and Judicial branches provide further checks and balances. The country moves, sometimes too slowly, but inexorably in the direction of the will of the people.
There is a very serious conversation to be had around whether or not this form of slow-moving government is suitable for the modern era. But even before we get to that, the main challenge is that the electoral process in the USA is moving away from representative democracy and towards a parliamentary-style system.
In a parliamentary system, parties have a more inflexible series of beliefs that elected members are not allowed to stray from. So, the Republican and Democratic parties now begin to look and sound like homogenous blocks rather than broader churches.
When you have broad churches, they are supposed to be bound together by a common set of values. In short, Republicans are supposed to believe in less government (government IS the problem, to quote Reagan), and Democrats believe in government solving problems.
With the economy looking in better shape (although I hope it lasts, it may not) the Republican party have spent too much time on social issues – scaring many who are fiscal conservatives but socially more liberal. Like an individual candidate who seems to lack integrity when they espouse a position that goes against their core beliefs, the Republican party is going to lose the support of independents because their “small government” message does not sit with a desire to tell citizens what to do with their sex life or their birth control.
In the meantime debt continues to mount. All three main plans (Obama, Santorum and Romney) show the US Federal debt climbing to close to $20bn over the next ten years. The two Republican plans actually add to the baseline debt by giving more away in tax cuts than they are cutting from expenditures.
The debt and job crisis deserves 90% of the attention in this election cycle. Instead both the politicians and media are spending their time talking about birth control and gay marriage – one is a non-issue and the other a matter of civil rights that is going in only one direction.
Why are they doing this? To appeal to a section of the Republican base of course. The same reason why President Obama killed a reasonable idea called the Keystone Pipeline – to address a part of his base.
We can’t be naive enough to suppose that politicians don’t have to be so….political. But it doesn’t mean that we should stand for it, nor call it out when it happens.
Eventually, the free market shatters monopolies and duopolies with invention and innovation and fresh new ways to get things done. Perhaps now is the time for an Independent to lead change in the United States and focus on what really needs to get done.