The funeral of Barbara Bush, the matriarch of a preeminent Republican family illuminates just how broken things are. While former Presidents of both parties attended there was a notable no-show, the present Republican President Donald Trump. Now sitting presidents don’t always go to first lady funerals, but who wouldn’t want to be seen paying his respects to “America’s Grandmother,” especially a publicity addict like Trump. He didn’t go simply because he wouldn’t have been welcome. Think about it. The leader of the Republican Party wasn’t welcome at the funeral of the wife of one Republican president and the mother of another. If this doesn’t alert the nation to a major split in one of our two major parties nothing will. In fact, most of the Republican attendees must feel they no longer have a party. Rolling over for the present President would mean surrendering their values. According to recent polls, they are a minority in their party, with the President viewed favorably by at least 70-80% of Republicans. As the Senator from Arizona, Jeff Flake, found there is no room for those old Goldwater-Reagan people in the present party.
A move to the other major party offers no welcoming home either. If you’re a free market Republican strongly favoring trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) you might find kindred souls among the Democrats. After all, it was negotiated by the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the Obama administration. Surely on this issue at least these Republicans could join with Democrats. This would be way off base. To placate the dominant progressive wing of that party, Clinton simply ran away from her own handiwork. Bernie Sanders and the progressives didn’t want any part of TPP so she caved. Odd, the dominant Trump wing of the Republicans had exactly the same position on TPP as the dominant progressive wing of the Democrats. On closer inspection this isn’t odd at all . On major issues these supposed blood rivals are in basic agreement or have symbiotic relationship.
Let’s take a look at half-dozen our most pressing problems. Entitlements threaten disaster. Social Security and Medicare, are about to swallow our future budgets whole, or go bankrupt or maybe both. This is a foreseeable and well documented problem. President Obama was surely aware of it when he when he appointed the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Commission. However, when it made its recommendations President Obama simply walked away when it failed to an initial commission vote. This in spite of the then House Ways and Means Chairman, Republican Paul Ryan even though he too voted against it for not going far enough felt it was a basis to move forward. Voted down, no one except Ryan has pushed for solutions even though the problem has continued to grow. It’s instructive to note Ryan is retiring after this term. When entitlements are brought up, Progressive Democrats echo Trump when he says, “we’re not going to do entitlement reform.”
The second area closely follows the first, Budget Busting spending. Ultimately it will be impossible to control spending without entitlement reform but we’re not even willing to wait for that crisis to take hold. The latest spending bill signed by President Trump and backed by progressive Democrats gives a financial crisis a much shorter time frame. Oh sure, Trump says he is “horrified” at the bill’s price tag and politicians of both parties decried this budget buster, but don’t listen to what they say and realize this is what they actually did. Progressive Democrats and Trump Republicans like to spend and that’s just what they do.
The third area we’ve already touched on, our relationship with a rapidly shrinking world. Actively participate in widening trade , extending the rule of law and human rights while devising ways to avoid destroying ourselves or will we reduce our commitments worldwide and rely on physical and tariff walls to protect us. Trump campaigned on pulling back militarily and on trade agreements . Not much if any difference than the positions taken by Bernie Sanders and the progressives.
The next three show symbiotic relationships hyped as opposing positions between the two major parties controlling wings. Immigration would seem to be something where they are most diametrically opposed. This is an illusion. They both have the same position, never stop the war. Don’t believe it, well let’s take a closer look.. In the last decade each party had the ability to settle immigration on their own terms. President Obama had absolute majorities in both houses in his first two years but never even brought up an immigration plan in that time frame. Instead he later put out a Constitutionally questionable executive order on the DACA youngsters driving an even greater wedge between the two sides. Trump even with control of all three branches has done little except kicking more people out by revoking some temporary crisis visas.and drawing up blueprints for walls. This of course drove the wedge in deeper. To understand this utter lack of progress one has to look back to the prior Bush administration. Having been re-elected George W. decided to expend some of his political capital passing immigration reform. What happened shaped positions on this issue and much else. Out on the fringes of talk radio heretofore a bastion of Conservative support, came a growing cry of “amnesty.” The talkers had found a large and vociferous part their audience didn’t really care for the undocumented and under the talkers directions ultimately flooded the phone lines of Republican lawmakers. This doomed the legislation. This victory showed the talkers along with allied bloggers and websites where their audience really was and rather than trying to change their minds they meekly followed. After all, they are paid for their audiences. The Republican failure amidst this ugly nativism led the Hispanics the most affected group to vote overwhelmingly for Obama in the next election, materially contributing to his election. A settlement of the issue would remove it allowing Republicans to compete for the Hispanic Vote. The incentives were all on the side of keeping the issue alive and kicking. Also, it fits in so well in the progressive’s stable of grievances underpinning their identity and power.
Further, the defeat of the Bush immigration initiative exposed a wide nativist swath in the American populace. One who noticed was Donald J. Trump. Ultimately they formed the base electing him President. Keeping them riled up over the illegals is a primary source of his power. Settling the issue is no more in his interest than the progressives. United, no immigration bill will ever pass.
Nothing compares to our long-standing divisions over Abortion. Lots of luck if you’re pro-life and want to run for President or most lower offices as a Democrat, but you’d fare no better as a pro-choice candidate as a Republican. At approximately an even split in polling between the two side the battle-lines clearly are drawn. Or are they? Actually most polls show a national pro choice bias for the early stages of a pregnancy but a pro life stance in the later stages. This makes sense as we recognize a fetus increasingly becoming a child. To grandparents a grand child is just theoretical up until you’re handed the ultrasound. Then that’s our grandchild. If a someone shoots a pregnant mother in the 8th month, killing the baby but the mother survives, most would still call it murder. What this shows is most think in terms of a sliding scale rather than absolutes. A mother’s right to terminate declines as the child increasingly becomes a person. In a civilized society the law must protect those who can’t protect themselves. A majority would consider a viable but unborn child worthy of protection. We’ve already moved closer to this model at present and codifying this principle would allow us to move on exiling the absolutists to the fringes.
In recent days the headlines have been dominated by two horrific acts. In one a young man took a gun and killed 4 people and seriously injured others in a waffle house. In the other a young man in a rental van mowed down and killed 10 people and seriously injured others on a sidewalk. In both cases the perpetrator had serious mental problems. Normal people don’t just go out and kill strangers. People with mental problems do. The fact is we need better ways to identify, neutralize and ultimately help this small segment of our population should be evident both in our country and others. Yet discussion of this obvious priority is drowned out by a debate about banning guns. London has more murders than New York even though guns have been banned almost forever. Apparently, the weapon of choice there is the knife. Here, instead of working on the real problem of mental illness, the discussion is all about guns and which ones we should take away from those 2nd amendment nuts. Legally responsible gun owners aren’t amused and fight back. Both parties have their bases energized. The sick go unattended.
So here we are,with our two major parties either agreeing on policies insuring major problems remain unsolved or taking such extreme opposing positions on others that they remain unsolved. Much sound and fury but no positive action. How does this happen? One thing we can be sure of, there are legions of people with livelihoods depending on maintaining the current state of affairs. Three cable networks thrive on fanning partisan flames. Partisanship forcefully espoused keeping the viewers anger at fever pitch. Online scads of websites and blogs vie for visitors by taking extreme positions. Info Wars has a lot of visitors while many serious policy sites are all but shunned. The world of so-called experts whether in think tanks or individually, more and more known not by their work but how loudly they present partisan positions. For instance the Heritage Foundation is better known for its highly partisan Heritage Action. The huge political fund-raising industry is dependent on getting people so riled up they send money. Everyone on both sides needs the known hot button issues to remain hot and unsolved. Anyone studying markets where competition is severely restricted would find the same incentives to keep everything the same while appearing to compete. Our two-party duopoly merely follows the expected form. In our politics one side is in power for a while and then the other. If you’ve made yourself known as a noisy advocate for one side or the other the chances are you have a job as a contributor to one of the cable networks or a place in some think tank or both. A pleasant exile if you will. The present administration fails and everyone switches places. They prosper in any case but the people’s business is left unattended. Restricted competition always results in crappy products and our politics is obviously no exception. We only got better cars than the junk our big three put out in the late 1960s and 70s when people could buy Volkswagens and Toyotas among a host of others providing excellent transportation at a better price. We have to introduce competition into our politics to break this destructive self-serving status quo. In our next post we will endeavor to mark a path to do just that with a “Future Party.”