What’s The Big Idea?

Michael Barone takes a look at the major parties and asks why neither of them seems to have any sort of major theme. The Democrats are running on the anti-ticket, anti-war and anti-Bush, but being against something doesn’t say much about what they actually believe as a party. The Republicans are running as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Party, which would be nice except for the fact that this isn’t 1980, the GOP isn’t running against Jimmy Carter, and none of the GOP candidates are Reagan.

So what does either party really believe in? Barone himself wonders:

Neither party is presenting a narrative, as the Roosevelts and Reagan did, that takes due note of America’s great strengths and achievements. Each seems to take the course, easier in a time of polarized politics, of lambasting the opposition. The Democrats suggest that all our troubles can be laid at the door of George W. Bush. The Republicans, noting Bush’s low job ratings, complain about the disasters that will ensue if Hillary Clinton is elected. All these may be defensible as campaign tactics. But it is not a pudding that can successfully govern.

Neither party seems to have much in the way of a “big idea” or any sense of what it would do short of winning the election. We’ve already seen that dynamic in play with the Democratic takeover of Congress—beyond winning the election, the Democrats in the House and Senate have little of which to be proud. Then again, the Republicans have no cause to feel superior in that regard.

The dynamic of American politics has become polarized and predominantly about power for power’s sake. This dynamic has produced a political culture that is mired in corruption and deeply unpopular with the electorate. Yet neither party seems all that much interested in change. The Democrats are about to nominate consummate political insider Hillary Clinton, a poster child for political polarization in modern politics. The Republicans seem to be increasingly running against Hillary rather than on the strength of their own convictions.

Ultimately, it’s the voters who bear the blame for the sad state of American politics. In a democratic state, politics institutions tend to give the people what they want: and partisan poison sells. How long that will be true is anyone’s guess, but the supposed “alternatives” are just more of the same. The Daily Show and other parts of the political counterculture these days just feeds an unhealthy skepticism of politics. Instead of looking for solutions, it seems to be easier to laugh at the fact that American politics is failing American principles.

What this country needs is a pragmatic reformer willing to work across the partisan divide and work towards real solutions to America’s problems based upon fundamental shared principles.

Sadly, there isn’t such a person in American politics today, and if there were, they’d be ripped to shreds by the rest of the field.

American politics lacks a big idea because Americans are more interested in political warfare than solutions. Blaming parties and candidates ultimately puts the impetus on change in the wrong place. Our political system gives us exactly what we want. That is its great strength and also its fatal weakness, and right now we’re getting the political culture we’ve created. If we want change, it has to begin from the bottom up rather than the top down.

9 thoughts on “What’s The Big Idea?

  1. Thats the problem Jay, you said it. Voters are to blame….we keep voting for the same old tired retreads…..why on earth would democrats nominate Hillary….why on earth would republicans nominate McCain…same song…same dance….we accept the status quo. This government could resolve many of the major issues facing us…ie immigration, health care, if it wanted to. However these so called leaders…want and need the status quo to remain in power. Voters foolishly repeat their mistakes over and over…which is of course, insanity.

  2. Radical change rarely sells. Only three times has it sold in the last century, during Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Era, FDR’s “New Deal”, and Ronald Reagan’s resurrection of a decades-dead conservative movement. All three reformers emerged in a period of severe decline. While Americans are pessimistic about the current state of affairs, they’re not yet frightened enough to demand “radical change”, and the change they do hunger for is the exact inverse of the change you’re selling.

  3. This country needs radicla change now. We have more and more americans losing health care coverage, seeing out of pockets costs rise and becoming unaffordable. We need a comprehensive solution to the problem that includes electronic delivery of medical records, better public health education from K-12, and malpractice reform. Study after study indicates those three items would save billions of dollars in healthcare costs and drive down the cost of coverage.

    We need an immigration policy that enforces current laws and does not reward ilegals. We need real border security. We need an energy policy that is more than fluff….we need foreign policy that has some real sense to it….all things the Bush administration has never provided…..

  4. We don’t necessarily need radical change. As a conservative, I don’t like radical changes. You don’t get good policy by throwing the baby out with the bathwater out with the tub.

    What we need are solutions. The three biggest challenges we face on the domestic front are education, entitlement spending, and healthcare. (In that order.) All are fixable.

    But to fix something like education, the Democrats have to get their collective noses out of the asses of the corrupt and incompetent teachers unions and start demanding real accountability. Meanwhile, the Republicans have to be willing to not bow down to worthless and counterproductive initiatives like No Child Left Behind.

    Instead, we get more of the same silly partisan posturing from both sides and the problems get worse. To argue that the Democrats are any better than the Republicans (or in many cases, vice versa) misses the point: neither political party is particularly concerned with truly fixing the nation’s problems.

  5. Jay…one thing I would say about education is that we would attract and retain good teachers with better pay. The starting salary for a teachers with a Master Degree for example in the highest paying states is only around $40k. Compare that with other college grads with masters degree’s, consider that these people teach our children…and realize the with the exception of those with 20 or more years experience…the pay scale is ridiculously low. That is a real problem.

    Throw in NCLB and the absurdity of preparing students to do nothing more than take exams, the protection of incompetent teachers protected by unions and you end up with real trouble.

  6. I agree it is a state issue….but it would require a better use of funding on the state level and probably additional federal funding…..of course there is so much waste in the federal budget it would not be hard to find….

  7. People get the government they deserve. What we have in American politics today is the Stupid Party vs. the Silly Party. The LAST thing we should do is give more money to the teachers, who are arguably the most responsible for the conduit by which we have arrived where we are today.

    We don’t need radical change, we need common sense. The idea that all the solutions to our problems somehow begin with still yet more government reform is just absurd. Government is the SOURCE of the problem, not the solution. Disagree? Try firing a teacher.

    And another thing… all is not doom and gloom. “Government” as we have it today, is just Hollywood for ugly people. As irritating and frustrating as it is, the current division makes it pretty much impotent in all but the truly basic fundamentals. Polarization is protection; neither side is going to be able to enact any legislation that is so drastic as to be defined as “radical change.”

    And that’s a good thing.

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