Saturday, March 11, 2017

America's Two-Party System Twilight Zone

Some of my friends will tell you that I’m a tree-hugging liberal, but if you want to know the truth I’m a man without a political party. When it comes to social issues, I am certainly a liberal and I dance with the Democrats. I would prefer not to know the intimate details of your personal life, I could care less who you sleep with and please marry whomever you please. Your body is your business and should never, ever be under the purview of the government - state, federal or otherwise. And as of this writing the only known habitable planet in the multiverse is this little blue one right here, so can We The People please make sure it remains habitable for future generations? Yes, We The People means the government - it is not some fierce and scary entity; it is made up of the people YOU voted for, trusting they would represent YOU. If you don’t vote, shame on you.

 When it comes to fiscal issues, however, I am anything but liberal. I’m a fiscal conservative, and if you know anything about government, there is absolutely no way to vote for a fiscally conservative whether they call themselves Republican or Democrat. As we saw in Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s health care proposal, which suggests gutting Medicaid to fund a $600 million tax break for millionaires, Republicans are always looking for ways to hand money out to the richest people in the world. Their current federal budget proposal spends $2.6 trillion in federal funds giving tax cuts to millionaires. Democrats, on the other hand, are always looking for more ways to reward people for not working and incentivize laziness. In 2015, the federal budget provided $362 billion for welfare-related programs. 

What if I don’t want to do either? What if I am primarily interested in balancing the federal budget in a way that represents actually spending less money? Call me crazy, but having the ability to destroy the entire planet fifty times over seems like more than enough. I also don’t agree with the Trump Administration’s philosophy that we need to ramp up defense spending by $54 billion. President Trump says this increase is needed because under President Barack Obama America’s military was “depleted,” but Trump seems to have missed the fact that over the last decade or so warfare has been transformed in a way that no longer requires troops, fleets of bombers and massive naval buildups. President Obama recognized that cyber warfare and drone strikes have replaced conventional ways of fighting and thus reduced the American investment in outdated technology. It’s certainly more fiscally responsible to continue that trend, not to mention how much safer America is if her leadership is squarely focused on current realities.

I’m also not sold on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, even though my family can’t afford the version that was adopted in Texas. While I would certainly love to have affordable, single-payer health care that does not require unpredictable co-pays and battles with insurance companies that make their money by finding ways to not cover their customer’s needs, the partisan quibblers in Washington fell well short of that under Obama and are trying to take a huge step backwards under Trump. If I could give up 30% of my income, as many Europeans and Canadians do, and know that my family is completely and competently covered with nothing out of pocket, I would jump at the chance. Since our government is largely under the control of multinational for-profit pharmaceutical companies, it’s highly unlikely we get that option regardless of which party is in control of the agenda.

I’m also sick and tired of being told that my vote has something to do with religion. Separation of Church and State was built into the United States Constitution by people who were fleeing state-sponsored religious persecution in England. Modern politicians sometimes try to make the case that Thomas Jefferson was not really trying to build a wall between religion and politics, but he absolutely was, as evidenced by this direct quote:

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." - Thomas Jefferson
Inexplicably, Republicans tend to garner the votes of the uber-religious, despite their agenda being about as far from anything the founder of Christianity would espouse as one could get. Jesus of Nazareth may not be the primary author of Christianity - that would be Paul of Tarsus - but the red letters in the New Testament speak of loving our neighbors as ourselves, serving the poor with all that we have and turning the other cheek when offended. It’s safe to say that Jesus would be all in favor of social safety nets like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which are under constant attack from the Republican Party. Meanwhile, the Democrats can’t seem to do enough for those Jesus referred to when he said, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40).

Simply put, if we are truly and faithfully to evoke Jesus of Nazareth, the Democratic Party does a much better job of representing his teachings than do their Republican counterparts. Both parties fall short, so once again I state that I believe we are better off leaving Jesus, Allah, God or any other religious figure out of our political discussions. Our religion certainly informs our political attitudes, but not nearly as much as the high-powered lobbyist who just dropped a fat check on the desk of the person we sent to Washington to represent US.

So what’s to be done? I can’t vote based on my fiscal worldview because neither political party is interested in actually balancing the budget. I can’t vote based on my family’s health and wellbeing because both parties are at the beckon call of big pharma and big insurance companies who will fight to make sure their profit margins remain grotesque. I’m not interested in involving my God in the discussion because the very foundation of America is based upon excluding the concept of “God.” No two people can fully agree on who that is, exactly, anyway.

What I would really like is for the people I vote for on election day to actually do what they say they’re going to do. I would like for my representatives, from the President down to my local city councilman, to spend their time listening to people and addressing their needs in ways that only government can. For that to happen, we have to start with ending Citizens United, which basically allows huge corporations to buy our representatives and prevent them from doing anything that might mean billionaires have to pay for the infrastructure and human capital that allows them to make their billions. The only way my local representative is going to really care what I think about any given issue is if the $100 I have to donate to their campaign is meaningful. I can’t possibly compete with Exxon Mobil, Halliburton, Monsanto or Big Pharma, which is often called America’s new mafia. Until we level the playing field by cutting corporations out of the process there is almost no point in my voting, anyway. The world of politics has always been dirty, but over the last couple of decades it has become downright despicable. People who are supposed to represent the best and brightest of America, sent to work together to solve our most difficult problems, have become consumed by partisan bickering and corporate money-grabbing. This is not what Abraham Lincoln envisioned when, in his Gettysburg Address, he said: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.” If he were here today he might even say that it has perished, after all.
Until we get it back, the distractions we so easily succumb to are blinding us to the fact that America's democracy has devolved into nothing more than a system of corporate fascism.

This is not how it's supposed to work. Democrats are supposed to come to the table with their pet projects and Republicans are supposed to come with their pet projects and the two sides are supposed to hammer out compromises that best represent the wants and needs of their constituents back home. Corporate interests are not supposed to matter one iota, especially since corporate interests are often at direct odds with what's best for the voting populace. Yes, American corporations create jobs (largely in third-world countries where people work for slave wages), but they also pollute the environment to the maximum extent they can get away with and they undermine the working class at every turn. It is our government's job to be the watchdog that protects the rights guaranteed to every American in the Constitution.

 We The People, then, must be vigilant in our efforts to know what our elected representatives are doing and to let them hear about it when they don't do what we elected them to do. The phone numbers of our state representatives should be in our phones and frequently used. We should spend at least as much time following politics are we do watching reality TV and really a lot more. We should demand non-partisan or at least bi-partisan viewpoints such as those expressed on XM's POTUS (Channel 124), NPR and many of the sources cited by Real Clear Politics. We should turn off highly partisan sources like FOX News, much of what airs on MSNBC and "fake news" outlets like Breitbart. If you're not getting both sides of an issue, you're not getting the truth. Period.

 Thomas Jefferson also once wrote: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." If we fail to educate ourselves, we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by those who seek to use us to enrich themselves at our expense. Intentionally mis-educating ourselves is surely even worse, and plays right into the hands of the rich and powerful who have taken over much of our government. Otherwise, where can we point our finger as government fails and our precious planet dies around us? Nowhere but at ourselves.


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