From the day we start nursery school or kindergarten, we are enrolled in a history class of some variation. In the Post-World War II era, the reoccurring theme throughout the class is America’s tragedies and subsequent triumphs. The Revolutionary War and the rise of George Washington and Freedom. The Civil War and Slavery with the rise of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation of the Slaves. Jim Crow and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. You all remember. The message, and the result, is an almost innate sense of pride for our country. The firm belief that this is the best country in the World; it is, always has been, and always will be.
Lately, however, I have begun to hear a quiet murmur in the back of mind echoed in the people with whom I talk. Maybe something is wrong here. Maybe the system is broken. Maybe that triumph isn’t as inevitable as everyone was raised to believe.
Given my family heritage, I am a loyal reader of the New York Times (my Grandfather was on the editorial board of the Times). Yesterday’s paper included an article about how college age voters now appear to be switching to the Republican party after supporting en masse the Democratic party just two years ago. When this article is read in conjunction with the continuously published polls about plummeting approval ratings for politicians of all parties, it leads me to believe that such a swing has less to do with political beliefs and ideals, and more to do with a deep frustration that the party in power cannot create jobs, provide people with the ability to take care of their families, and realize the prosperity our generation was promised since the day we were born. The promise that we could all be whatever we wanted to be if we just put our mind to it and worked hard enough. Now too many in this generation either have no opportunity to work or must work as hard as they possibly can in an attempt to break even.
I believe this generation is slowly becoming angry (yes, angry – a level of passion beyond basic frustrations that get drowned out by our day-to-day responsibilities). A realization may be occurring that our government does not reflect our beliefs and that it can no longer guarantee inevitable triumph. Whether we are Democrat or Republican, each of us are far more complex than our simple and polarized Legislature. The politicians voted into office, either through the pressure of the political climate or genuine values, are either hardcore Democrats or hardcore Republicans. The result is no middle ground. No opportunity for compromise. No pragmatic thinking on issues. Its either a period of socialist economics or a period of laissez faire economics. Its a continuous series of dramatic, sharp jerks back and forth in political thinking.
We each are more complex than this black and white process. We are also suffering the effects a political system that, for whatever reason – likely the 24/7 news media – may not be able to promote prosperity anymore. Because we were all raised to think of the United States as the beacon of prosperity, justice, and freedom in the World, we all assume its just a matter of time before we pull out of this economic meltdown. Unfortunately, that may not be reality. It is easy to get lost in all the economic figures and jargon bounced around by pundits and experts, but if one simplifies what is being said, there is a scary reality. More money is leaving this country every single day than is entering the system. Our imports far exceed our exports. Companies continue to outsource jobs. Over the long-term, no system can sustain itself under those conditions. Our government is now doing what most Americans were doing the past ten years: purchasing a lifestyle it cannot afford with money borrowed from somewhere else. Eventually, all debts come due. As a country, we may be approaching that day of reckoning. Measures like ‘stimulus money’ are band-aids, not solutions.
An answer is obviously more complex than a two-step fix, but I believe that eventually two things are going to need to occur to get this country back on track:
(1) Modification of Voting Primaries: I firmly believe that the polarized Legislature that fails to properly represent a new, highly educated (either formally through educational institutions or informally through the internet) is the result of our primary system. In almost all states, each party has a Primary election before the General election. At that level, Democrats must select the Democratic candidate they want to represent them in the General election and the Republicans do the same. Unfortunately, the voter turnout for these elections is minuscule and typically only involves your hardcore political junkies. The result is two General election candidates who reflect the values of each parties idealistic and fringe political bases. In this system, it is almost impossible nowadays for a complex Democrat or a complex Republican to win the primary and move on to the General election where he/she may appeal to most of us middle-of-the-roaders. Voters must choose between a Democrat with Democratically vanilla political beliefs who will be unable to work with opposition Republicans or an antithetic Republican. The outcome – our current Legislature and the one before that and the one before that…
California recently proposed a modification that I think should be implemented across the board. California wants to implement a party-less Primary. All candidates run for the General election and the two candidates who receive the most votes, irrespective of their parties, will move to the General election. This may create opportunity for people with real solutions rather than those which are politically fringe and idealistic. We may start to get a Legislature that is pragmatic and more resembles our own beliefs. The hope of compromise may once again appear on the House and Senate floors.
(2) Investment in Education and Innovation: A more middle-of-the-road Congress may also free our Legislature from the pressure of abandoning long-term strategies and goals in order to win short-sighted victories in order to remain in power. If this country’s economy is ever going to recovery, then, in my opinion, we need to reverse the out-flow of money and capital. Think about your own finances, if you spend more than you make, you’re eventually going to be bankrupt. In order to do that, we need a commodity to sell. The focus, in my opinion, has been too much on finite resources: natural resources, manufactured goods, etc. Goods of a limited quantity.
This country’s long-term prosperity is tied to its ability to sell innovation. We need to once again become the leader in education and innovation. We need to develop things like green technology, medicine and vaccines, managerial theory, and computer systems. The products of the minds of our generation are infinite resources. We need to be the leaders in every cerebral sector in the global economy. This requires time and investment, however, two things our political system discourages. The demands of our political system and our media favor instant gratification (however superficial) and discourage long-term gains. One party will gain power and invest money in a project and then two years later the opposite party will gain power and strip the project of its funding. Examples include stem-cell research and military weaponry. We need a political system that can find middle-ground, minimize the politicization of issues and identify a diversification of projects that will yield financial gains for this country. Then this country can begin to regain some financial security and see sustainable job growth.
In conclusion, while I do not foresee a revolution, I do foresee change. As the recession deepens and teeters on depression, our generation moves closer to awakening. The days of prosperity which yielded a understandable contentness in people that left them disinterested in the political system are ending. Eventually something with this system is going to need to be modified in order to minimize its polarization and attract politicians more willing to invest in our long-term viability. The subsequent triumph to this tragedy depends on it.