Sunday, January 8, 2012


What will it take to get our politicians to sit down and talk seriously about solutions to our country’s problems? The primary season never brings out the best in candidates, but even allowing for that, the political class seems far more interested in scoring points like a bunch of seventh-graders trading punches than in arriving at intelligent policy decisions.

The first casualty is any kind of coherence. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were for an insurance mandate before they were against it. Barack Obama was against it before he was for it. Democrats oppose corporate welfare except when it benefits businesses they like; Republicans oppose corporate welfare except... wait a second, I’m repeating myself.

If you take a look at actual core beliefs, in so far as they exist and can be discerned, there ought to be the makings of a bipartisan consensus on some of these issues. Liberals have always been unenthusiastic about the drug war; now a Republican candidate is actually stating a principled opposition to it. What will it take to get people from both parties together to come up with a sane policy on drugs?

The federal tax code ought to drive liberals crazy with its countless giveaways to insiders; it ought to drive conservatives crazy for its Byzantine distortion of markets. What will it take to get people to venture across the aisle and talk about serious, radical tax reform? I realize that all our politicians are on the take to some degree or other; that’s how you get elected. But a bipartisan committee that got serious about tax reform would give everybody cover; you could deep-six the whole rotten system and plead the tyranny of the majority to the offended donors.

There are real and profound philosophical differences between the parties and their constituent factions, and the tug-of-war over basic approaches will always be with us. But many of our problems could be ameliorated significantly by simply meeting on the common ground which already plainly exists. And the parties are too busy demonizing their opponents to sit down for some common-sense damage control.

Maybe the election will clear the air. Or maybe they’ll figure out who’s been putting psychotropic drugs in the D.C. water supply. But something has to change. Politicians ought to be held to high standards of argument and high standards of seriousness. Instead we get ad hominem attacks, irrelevancies and non-sequiturs and endless foolish promises that nobody, least of all those issuing them, expects to be kept.

What’s stopping them from doing better? We are. We the voters haven’t yet made clear to our representatives that we expect them to do better. It’s not just voting; it’s taking ten minutes to send an e-mail or make a phone call. It doesn’t have to be a partisan move; whatever your political stance, there’s almost certainly something you agree on with your neighbors. Let’s start with tax reform: call your representative and your senators and let them know that you think the federal tax code is a festering disgrace and you expect the mess to be cleaned up. A simpler, cleaner tax code will allow less scope for mischief by either side, and we’ll all gain.

Democracy takes work. This means you.

Sam Reaves

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