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Politics, Principles, and the All-Powerful Party
The concern is less which party is worse, but which party will get off the dysfunctional merry-go-round first and who will engage to get them off of it.
Scott Howard studies political science and journalism at the University of Florida.
As I type this, great deliberation is going on in Washington DC. Principled men, elected by their constituents, are debating the great ideas of our time. They take a final vote when the debate ends, and a cross-party coalition of principled men will prevail. The victors will be gracious in their victory, the defeated humble in their loss, and the world will continue to go round.
At least, that’s the dream.
Alas, this is not Mr. Smith’s Washington. Such impassioned pleas to Congress happen less and less, and when they do the person giving the plea tends to be talking to an empty Congress. The actual situation in Congress tends to be people on one side of the political aisle lobbing insults and accusations at those on the other side of the aisle.
No actual discussion takes place, and Congress fails to legislate on even the simplest matters. This is especially evident when Congress tries to pass its annual appropriations bills. What should be a routine 12 bills tends to get ignored, and the end-result is almost always a massive omnibus package that has a funny habit of increasing spending of everything Congress wants to do, with no regard for fiscal sanity. Congressmen then go home to their districts, where they bravely tell their constituents that, if re-elected, they will fight for the same issues they said they’d fight for the last time they were elected.
It’s a vicious cycle.
The blame for this issue lies, first and foremost, with the state of political parties in the US today. Political parties are not necessarily a bad thing; the coalitions they build and the centralized power they can throw behind ideas are sometimes useful. However, the party system of the US today has decayed to the point of being counterproductive to good legislating.
In years past, when a political party outlived its usefulness the party died, being replaced by a new organization with a fresh commitment to ideas and to people. Today, however, that is not the case. The two major parties in the US today, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, have each existed since before the Civil War. Their roots run deep, down from the national stage to state and even local politics. Almost every major politician today comes from one of these two parties, and every President since Abraham Lincoln has belonged to one of these two organizations.
This would not be so bad if the parties actually believed in the principles they say they believe in. A close look at each party, however, will show that this is not the case.
On the Republican side, the stated principles are those of limited government and free-market capitalism. The operational heads of the party, however, paint a different picture. In the House we have Kevin McCarthy, a man whose claim to power comes from being in party leadership for over a decade. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell has worked for decades to funnel money into his home state of Kentucky, and has been an accomplice in every budget bill passed since he took power. And, of course, we have Donald Trump, living in political exile but still very much pulling the levers of the Republican Party, a man whose blatant disregard for free-market capitalism was only made worse by his moniker as the “King of Debt”. Indeed, these are the great conservative champions of our day.
In the Democratic Party the situation is similar. The supposed platform is one of aggressive progressivism in the style of socially-democratic Scandinavia. However, the politicians in power in Congress tell a different story. Both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are dyed-in-the-wool establishment politicians, having served for decades each. They worked their way up the party ladder, and have been faithful representatives of the party itself.
While ostensibly counter to each other, these two parties have, in practice, more in common than meets the eye. The lock these parties have on elections, in particular congressional elections, is strong. The bills that come out of Congress when each party is in power are, essentially, the same, which shows that politicians care less about the principles they espouse and more about the petty politics of it all.
The parties are vicious in their shallow attacks on each other, but fail to support and defend the positions they themselves claim when it becomes convenient. Republican support of Donald Trump was a prime example of this. The man was not conservative, and yet the party marches in lockstep behind him.
We the people are also to blame. The lack of civic virtue in society today is alarming, but it should not be surprising. Since WWII, participation in the political sphere has steadily declined, and with it so to have principled positions in our political operatives. We have given up on critical analysis of what happens in Washington, and with that retreat the rampant partisanship of today’s America has gleefully advanced.
So long as we continue to just take what the parties and politicians say at face value, the principles that this nation was founded on and that we should hold so dear will continue to be forgotten.
The situation is dire. But there are solutions. The parties can be changed from within, if principled men stand up and fight for what they believe in. The old saying “you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain” rings true, but if enough politicians choose to die as heroes, they may very well become martyrs.
Most importantly, though, we need to step up. If every one of us takes the time to study the ideas we are debating, look at our politicians, and hold their feet to the fire, then the problems listed above will cease to be as prominent as they are. We must act quickly and decisively, though. The actions we take today may determine the principles of tomorrow.