The Death of Pragmatism

It's the "Politics of Envy" versus the "Politics of Resentment" in the 2012 election. President Obama has adopted the cover story of "fairness" to mask his drive to convince middle-class Americans that the real reason some people are better off than they are is not because they're smarter, or work harder, or have a better idea to sell in the American marketplace, but because they cheat -- climbing to the top on the backs of overworked, overtaxed, and underpaid Americans. The solution: Re-elect me and I'll make the rich squeal like stuck pigs, rule by executive fiat, turn the EPA into an avenging Angel of Death for carbon emitters, and embrace the Muslim Brotherhood as, well, brothers.

It won't solve anything but it will make a lot of people feel better in their misery.

The GOP counters by telling the middle class that the real problem is that there are a sizable number of citizens -- including some of your neighbors -- who are leeching off your tax dollars and getting a free ride through life. Health care, college tuition, food stamps, housing assistance, unemployment insurance -- almost anything that Washington subsidizes is a waste of tax dollars and goes to undeserving reprobates (or illegal aliens) who are the cause of the gigantic growth in the size and scope of the federal government.

The solution: Elect a Republican and we'll put poor kids to work after school as janitors, and make their parents dig ditches on a chain gang for their food stamps. We'll build an electrified fence that the Mexican illegals will get a real charge out of, and then take us back to the good old days when everyone knew their place, gays were in the closet, abortions were in the back alley, God was in our science textbooks, and the federal government's biggest worry was what to do about the inefficiency of the Post Office.

Missing from this unfolding debate are solutions on how to lift us out of this gigantic hole we've dug ourselves over the past 50 years. One might prefer to view this crisis as a 4 or 8 year problem, caused by one party or the other, and that if only the voters would give us another chance (Democrats) or throw the bum in the White House out (Republicans), the answer to your prayers would be at hand.

But this is nonsense. Both parties, liberals and conservatives, have contributed to the rapid growth in the federal government and the crushing debt with which we must now deal. Ask Ronald Reagan or either President Bush about shrinking the size of government or ask every Democratic Congress between 1948 and 1994 about prudence, responsible governance, and the efficacy of trying to foresee unintended consequences to their social engineering schemes. The Tea Party gets one thing very, very right: it is a culture in Washington that must be changed as much as the people who are part of it.

Meanwhile, we are treated to television spectacles that are designed largely to distract us from the real plight of the nation, eschewing truth and facts for fear mongering and character assassination. The fictional president Andrew Shepherd in the film The American President comes close to nailing it:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character.

The entertainment value -- if there ever was any to this sideshow -- has long since passed and we are left watching ghostly images on the tube of a president speaking before Congress while being held in thrall to the extremists of his party's far left-wing base, while the extremists in the GOP are actually running things.

The evidence that the extremes of both parties have a stranglehold on power in Congress is fairly convincing. The center, for all intents and purposes, is gone. Almost all Democrats are liberals today and all Republicans are conservatives.