28 January 2009
Old Habits Don't Die
The notion of "why can't we all just get along?" is wonderful. Beautiful. Perfect. But it's not realistic. I'm probably going to be labeled a cynic for writing this, but it's time we get real. Democrats and Republicans aren't going to agree on everything. Not only is that ok, I would argue it's preferable. Mind you, this notion is applicable to any country in which multiple parties exist - Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem, Christian Dem and Social Dem, etc.
Barack Obama promised a new era of bipartisan collaboration that "puts politics aside to do the American people's business." He went on to say:
"I hope I've communicated a sincere desire to get good ideas from everybody. And my attitude is that this is the first major piece of legislation we've been working on the Hill, and over time some of these habits of consultation and mutual respect will take over. But, you know, old habits die hard."
Here are the problems with this:
1. President Obama is being just as political as the Republicans by preparing a piece of legislation that is inherently Democratic in nature then using it to suggest Republicans should be "less political." He's basically saying, "look, this is the right way and if you don't agree then you're making it political." Granted, I'm fine with it because I believe in Democratic ideals and think tax cuts have proven over the past 8 years to be the most ineffective way on the planet to spur economic growth, favoring the wealthy who don't reinvest and create jobs but instead buy private planes and 11 houses. Yes, that was a dig on McCain.
2. These aren't "habits" we're talking about, they're World views, value sets and political philosophies. They're rooted in a lifetime of considering domestic, social, moral and international issues then deciding how to best solve those issues. Again, I'm completely biased here and for the most part, agree with the Democratic framework on this, so I'm very very pleased with the direction we're moving in. Couple that with the complete failure of the last eight years and you wonder how anyone could still believe in the Republican philosophy (though some would argue it really wasn't Republican). Nevertheless, people do, and it is all but impossible to get half of a country to adopt an entirely new World view over night simply because one man says it's the right thing to do. Society has never and will never work that way. These value sets are shaped over generations, passed down from parent to child again and again and again. Granted, that doesn't mean they're right (that is, I do believe there are absolute truths - equality for all, liberty, freedom, etc.), but they simply are, and they have been for a really long time. Bottom line, the expectation that we'll all agree is fundamentally impossible to attain.
3. Despite everything, 58 MILLION people still voted for John McCain. That means 46% of all voters, with all the facts in, still thought John McCain's course of action was better. The US is trapped in a two-party system that makes every issue black or white, left or right, agree or disagree. To change that would be to change our entire political culture. Yes, President Obama has suggested he is the man to do it, but he is still a Democrat who holds Democratic principles and who will [hopefully] never be a Republican, and that's FINE, just as it's fine for Republicans to feel completely the opposite (though I would argue they're wrong using a great deal of quantitative and qualitative research that proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Republican economic, social and international policies are rarely - if ever - successful).
In discussing the economic stimulus he said:
“We're not going to get 100 percent agreement, and we might not even get 50 percent agreement, but I do think people appreciate me walking them through my thought process on this."
Even if we get 0% Republicans, that's fine, and at some level, should be expected. If you're coming at problems from entirely different places, shouldn't we simply acknowledge that we're not going to agree? Look, Bush had 8 years to prove his philosophy and we all watched at is failed miserably. Now Obama has [hopefully] 8 years to prove that a Democratic philosophy works better (the same way FDR, LBJ and Clinton did some 60, 40 and 10 years ago). If we do it, hopefully people will realize that and continue on the same trajectory. If not, we'll head right back into the Republican doldrums, as happened after FDR, LBJ and Clinton. It seems to be entirely cyclical - Republicans crash and burn an entire nation and let Conservative values hold us back, a Democrat sweeps in and makes a great deal of progress, Republicans come back in and keep us there for a solid 20 years or more, Democrat sweeps in and edges us forward again. My only hope is that this time, we don't fall back into a Republican doldrum.
So then, my advice to President Obama - keep consulting and explaining to Republicans why what you want to do is the best idea a) because it's the right thing to do b) because it looks great to the American people. Then, after you've consulted your heart out, just do what's right. That's why the other 66 million of us voted for you.
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