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.