As I type this, great deliberation is going on in Washington D.C. Principled men, elected by their constituents, are debating the great ideas in politics of our time. When the debate ends, a final vote will occur and a cross-party coalition of principled men will prevail. The victors will be gracious in their victory, the defeated humble in their loss, and the world will continue to go round.
At least, that’s the dream.
Alas, this is not the reality of Washington. Such impassioned pleas to Congress happen less and less and when they do, the person giving the plea tends to be talking to an empty Congress. The actual situation in Congress tends to be people on one side of the political aisle lobbing insults and accusations at those on the other. No actual discussion takes place and Congress fails to legislate on even the simplest matters.
This is especially evident when Congress tries to pass its annual appropriations bills. What should be a routine 12 bills tends to get ignored, and the end result is almost always a massive omnibus package that has a funny habit of increasing spending of everything Congress wants to do with no regard for fiscal sanity. Congressmen then go home to their districts, where they bravely tell their constituents that, if re-elected, they will fight for the same issues they said they’d fight for the last time.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Who’s at Fault?
The blame for this issue lies, first and foremost, with the state of political parties in the US today. Political parties are not necessarily a bad thing; the coalitions they build and the centralized power they can throw behind ideas are sometimes useful. However, the party system of the US today has decayed to the point of being counterproductive to good legislating.
In years past, when a political party outlived its usefulness it died; a new organization with a fresh commitment to ideas and to people replaced it. That is no longer the case in politics. The two major parties in the US today have each existed since before the Civil War. Their roots run deep, down from the national stage to state and even local politics. Almost every major politician today comes from one of these two parties, and every president since Abraham Lincoln has belonged to one of these two organizations.
This would not be so bad if the parties actually believed in the principles they claim to. On the Republican side, so many politicians claim to hold closely principles of limited government and free-market capitalism. The operational heads of the party, however, paint a different picture.
In the House, we have Kevin McCarthy, a man whose claim to power comes from being in party leadership for over a decade. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell has worked for decades to funnel money into his home state of Kentucky and has been an accomplice in every budget bill passed since he took power. And, of course, we have Trump in the White House, a man whose blatant disregard for free-market capitalism is only made worse by his moniker as the “King of Debt”. Indeed, these are the great conservative champions of our day.
In the Democratic Party, the situation is similar. The supposed platform is one of aggressive progressivism in the style of socially-democratic Scandinavia. However, their politicians tell a different story. Both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are dyed-in-the-wool establishment politicians, having served for decades each. They worked their way up the party ladder and have been faithful representatives of the party itself.
The Two Parties: Opponents in Name Only
These two parties, while ostensibly counter to each other, have, in practice, more in common than meets the eye. The lock these parties have on elections is strong. The bills that come out of Congress when each party is in power are functionally very similar, which shows that politicians care less about the principles they espouse and more about the petty politics of it all.
The parties are vicious in their shallow attacks on each other, but fail to defend the positions they themselves claim when it becomes convenient. Republican support of Donald Trump is a prime example of this. The man is not remotely conservative, and yet the party marches in lockstep behind him.
We the people are also to blame. The lack of civic virtue in society today is alarming, but it should not be surprising. Since WWII, participation in the political sphere has steadily declined; with it, so too have principled positions in our political operatives. We have given up on critical analysis of what happens in Washington and with that retreat, the rampant partisanship of today’s America has gleefully advanced. So long as we continue to take what the parties and politicians say at face value, the principles that this nation was founded on and that we should hold so dear will continue to be forgotten.
The situation is dire, but there are solutions. We can change the parties from within if principled men stand up and fight for what they believe in. The old saying “you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain” rings true, but if enough politicians choose to die as heroes then they may very well become martyrs.
Most importantly, though, we need to step up. If each of us takes the time to study the ideas under discussion, to look at our politicians and to hold their feet to the fire, then the problems listed above will cease to be as prominent. We must act quickly and decisively, though. The actions we take today may determine the principles of tomorrow.