America’s democracy is functionally broken. No, not the voting system, not the checks and balances, not even the allocation of rights between the states and the federal government. What is broken is the very people at the core of the democracy. You. Me. Your Neighbor. That creepy guy down the street. We’re all at fault.
Many of America’s voters are in a sense, irrational. From Alaska to the tip of the Florida Keys, we aren’t making rational decisions when it comes to our democracy. For instance, Alaska, the most subsidized state in the US where Federal funding accounts for roughly 1/3 of its entire economy saw its primary election for US Senator pick a guy that wanted to gut Federal spending to the bone. Basically, all of the primary voters for Miller were voting for higher unemployment in Alaska at the same time being angry at Obama and the Democrats for unemployment sitting in the vicinity of 10%. That is not rational. It may be better for the country as a whole, but voting yourself, your neighbors and your states’ citizens out of jobs is hardly rational. Did Miller offer any real ideas on how to replace those jobs? Nope.
In Hawaii, the Representative seat held by conservative Republican Charles Djou flipped to Democrat by a large margin. Djou who is very much a fiscal conservative was replaced with arguably one of the liberal representatives in US history. At the same time Hawaii residents are very aware of the spiraling costs of health care and retirements in Hawaii upon their state’s finances, they replaced a representative that would work toward preventing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security bankrupting the country with a representative that would press on the proverbial gas towards financial ruin. That is not rational.
In Delaware, former representative Mike Castle, who voted for TARP and arguably help saved his constituent’s retirement funds was thrown out and replaced with by all measures, a completely untested, untried, and unreliable Tea Party replacement who was soundly annihilated at the polls. Maybe America isn’t entire broken, but it’s pretty damaged. What happens to the stock market holdings when financial markets and banks collapse? All of those holdings basically become worthless. Mike Castle made a hard decision, saved hundreds of millions in Delaware voters’ retirement funds and got fired for making the hard decisions. Delaware primary voters fired the guy who saved their Golden Years.
While I’m trying not to pick on Republicans too much, the “Pledge” set forth by GOP leadership is basically a sham. Reagan’s former budget director, William Cohen called it “half baked.” He estimates that the items that the GOP refuses to touch account for about 85% of the budget. There is no mathematical way that the GOP can reduce the deficit and debt over a reasonable period of time even if they cut the entire 15% they haven’t restricted themselves to. Furthermore, to actually cut that 15% would require defunding the Executive Branch, Legislative Branch and Judicial Branch of the government. What they implicitly call for is firing themselves, Obama and the Supreme Court. But as the election shows, more than a few people bought that pledge, hook, line and sinker. The Tea Party is functionally just as bad as the rest of the GOP. Running on stances to cut spending without actually citing programs they’d cut is little more then a snake oil proposal. And as we’ve seen, the honest wonder child, Rand Paul is wavering on earmarks. If the wonder child cannot even commit to cutting less than 0.5% of the budget, the Tea Party is functionally a bunch of liars.
The recent release of Obama’s deficit commission has further revealed the failure of American Democracy. Many of its proposals mirror the hard austerity measures that European nations are either going through or committing themselves to, such as Greece and the UK. While it is likely to die a premature death it has sparked a real discussion among mature adults about where the US budget is heading. And as expected, the GOP and Democratic Leadership have acted like petulant trust fund children calling the proposal “unacceptable” on various grounds. If we had adult political parties instead of the diaper clad fools like Pelosi and Bohener, we could see a real, honest discussion about where America is heading. Even ignoring the record deficits and debts, America’s unfunded liabilities ranging from state pensions to Medicare projected outflows is over $50 trillion. There is absolutely no way we can pay for that with mere spending cuts. With Democrats unwilling to cut spending and Republicans deathly allergic to tax hikes, the US is inevitably headed towards bankruptcy. And the petulant trust fund children are merely doing what we want. Polls consistently show Americans’ support for entitlements and defense and strong feelings against tax hikes. Furthermore, Americans have come out against stimulus spending while disapproving of the Democrats primarily on the economy. Many call the stimulus a failure. That’s pretty irrational, especially since the underlying argument there is that the economy would have done better with higher taxes and less demand sans Stimulus. We want to have our cake and eat it too.
And who is to blame for it? The people in charge. And who put them there over and over and over again? You and me. Americans are not stupid people contrary to the opinions of many overseas. Nor are we completely blind. But when the hard facts are staring us right in the face, that we cannot afford this lifestyle and we must make drastic changes if we want a better future for our children yet we keep electing and choosing those who act in ways exceedingly contrary to what we want, can we call ourselves rational? No. We cannot.