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What if Elections Can’t Fix Washington?

“Clearly there was only one escape for them—into stupidity. They could keep society in its
existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible.” —George Orwell

Orwell was speaking of the national leaders during Britain’s decline, but his words certainly could apply to the United States today.

Independents rose as a powerful force in America along with the Internet, and today they are deeply frustrated with America’s direction.

They voted President Obama into office in huge numbers, only to see him continue to spend their nation into deeper debt.

National politics in America have long been divided between the blue states along the coasts and the red states in the middle, with battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida swinging the votes.

Today independents control the electorate in nearly all states, and they have swung away from Obama –- especially in the swing states.

For example, 65% of independents in the battleground state of Ohio now say President Obama is doing a bad job.

But politics are only the tip of the iceberg. In a national survey fifty-year-old men were asked which country they see as the biggest threat to America in the 21st Century, and the answers were revealing: only 2% said Russia (and this from men raised in the Cold War), 19% said North Korea, 20% said Iran, and 25% said China.

Among twenty-year-old men asked the same question, 6% said Russia, 17% North Korea, 16% Iran and 23% China. Interesting.

But both groups put “Ourselves” as the top answer. A whopping 31% of fifty-year-old males and 33% of twenty-year-olds consider the United States the biggest 21st Century threat to the U.S.!

What are a third of American men so afraid of? Why do we increasingly consider “Ourselves” the biggest threat to America?

In the same survey, asked what worries them the most, the top answers were: 1) unemployment, 2) the size of the federal debt, 3) the possibility of a terrorist attack. And note that survey takers came from across the political spectrum.

Be Very Afraid?

A lot of Americans are concerned that our own government is the problem, not because it isn’t doing enough but because it is doing way too much—especially overspending. However, it is doubtful how much an election can fix this.

Only 19-22 (depending on the specific issues) of the heated Congressional elections across the nation offer winnable candidates who are strongly anti-government-spending. Though these candidates are called “crazy” or “fringe” by much of the media, they have the overwhelming support of both independent voters and Tea Partiers.

Still, even if all 22 win and additional Republican candidates take the House and even the Senate, how much can they actually change things? Unless they take on entitlements, budgets will most likely overspend for many years to come.

When asked directly what they plan to do, few Democrat or Republican candidates are willing to say they’ll reduce social security, Medicare or other entitlements.

Indeed, the American voter seems to passionately want government to stop spending money on everyone else—but to keep helping his own family.

“I want my government program,” the voter says, “but those other people are costing us too much!”

“Yeah,” says another, “I’ll vote in candidates who promise to cut the debt and deficit and stop spending taxpayer money, and I’ll vote out anyone who threatens my favorite government programs.”

If that last sentence didn’t make you laugh or cry, you should read it again.

Some Americans who live or travel abroad a lot are amazed at how much Americans at home are addicted to government programs and want the government to solve every problem and protect them from every accident and danger. Yet many of these same Americans rail against government spending.

As for repealing the 2010 Health Care law, Republicans would have to take the House and the Senate, and then they would have to garner enough votes in Congress to override a Presidential veto. That’s not going to happen any time soon.

In response to this point, Republican leaders say they’ll only need enough House members to deny funding to implement the new Health Care system. The name for this in the media will be “Shutting Down the Government,” and even the Gingrich-led “Contract With America” House of Representatives wasn’t willing to do this.

Real repeal isn’t likely with just one turnaround election—Republicans would probably need to win in both 2010 and 2012 to make this happen.

Big Questions

Maybe this sounds too pessimistic, but my point is to wonder what will happen if independent and Tea Party voters put Republicans back in control of the House or even the entire Congress and nothing much changes in Washington.

Republicans will still blame Democrats, and vice versa, but what will independents do?

Consider: They rise up against the Obama agenda and send new leaders to Washington, but nothing really changes. Government spending even increases.

Barring major world crises, I think this is just what will happen. And then the debate will repeat itself in 2012.

This brings up a number of additional questions. For example:

  • Will the independent dialogue about 2012 be that the Republicans are no better than the Democrats, or that the Republicans need more members in Congress and even the White House?
  • As we move toward 2012, will Republican behavior cause independents to see President Obama as an embattled Clinton-style administrator who just needs more time to make his policies stick, or as a Carter-like politician who is in over his head and should be replaced?
  • Can the economy handle two more years of high government spending and regulating?
  • Is the Obama Administration nimble enough, in the tradition of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton, to reinvent itself and swing to the middle? Will it make hard choices that reduce government spending and build the private sector? Is President Obama truly a statist who believes in big government or a left-leaning pragmatist who is willing to tighten the nation’s belt and restore a free enterprise economy? If he chooses the first, he may lose the independents for good.
  • If, for whatever reason, a Republican candidate wins the presidency from Barack Obama in 2012, will the resulting Republican Administration drastically increase government spending, regulation, debts and deficits like Bush did when he took over after Clinton? How would the independents and Tea Parties who elected him react to yet another betrayal?
  • Have we reached a point in American politics that all candidates from both parties promote smaller government during campaigns but drastically increase spending once in power (like Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama)? Is this just the reality of politics now? And if it is, what will independents, Tea Parties and fiscally responsible liberals and conservatives do?
  • Is a major third party inevitable? Is it even realistic? Would it just give more power to the side it disagrees with most?

In short, are elections even capable of fixing our problems any more? And if the American people give up on elections as the real solution to major national problems, what will they do next?

The Future of Independents?

These are big questions. They go to the very heart of what it means to be Americans and what our future holds.

Americans are deeply and passionately concerned about government over-spending, too much regulation of small business, increasing debts and deficits, and high unemployment.

Washington claims the recession is over, but most Americans don’t feel positive changes in their pocketbooks and are still experiencing a significantly decreased economic reality.

They are tired of symbols instead of substance from their leaders. For example, even if the Obama Administration pushed through its tax raise on the top 2% of taxpayers, the resulting $34 billion next year would only cover 9 days of the deficit.

And this, along with more government spending, is the big White House push to help the economy? “Come on, man…”

As independents read the fine print in this and other proposals from the White House and Republican leaders, they are becoming less optimistic that either party is serious about real solutions.

And where symbolism does matter most, the Obama Administration is still portraying itself as hostile to American business (even major 2008 Obama donors are appalled) and many Republicans continue to denigrate minorities.

Government seems entirely out of touch with most Americans, even as it makes individual and family life ever more difficult.

A majority of Americans want things to change, especially in the economy, and many are depending on the voting booth to solve the deepening problem. But what if even this doesn’t work?

Maybe the best we can hope for, as a number of independents now believe, is for a perpetually split government—where neither party ever holds the White House and Congress at the same time.

In this model, if a Democrat wins the White House and the Supreme Court has a conservative majority, independents will vote Republicans into the House and Democrats to the Senate.

If, on the other hand, the President is Republican and the Court is mostly liberal, they will make the House Democratic and the Senate Republican. There are several variations, but the idea is to always pit Democrats against Republicans and give neither a mandate.

Unfortunately, both parties are big spenders. Maybe fighting over what to spend will at least reduce the rate of government’s growth, or so the argument goes.

A New Challenge

But we are about to experience something new and, perhaps, different.

There have been many votes in history that left the American electorate frustrated and disappointed with how its voting-booth “revolution” didn’t seem to change much of anything in Washington.

But the first such event in the Internet Age, and in an era with more independents than either Democrats or Republicans, was the 2006-2008 election cycle.

Independents and the online world turned against President Bush in 2006 and the frustration deepened into the election of 2008.

In a very real sense, the new politics (of independents and the Internet) rejected the old (Bush, Television Era) and brought in the new (Obama, Internet Generation).

But how will the new majority (of independents and the Internet) deal with rejecting itself? Since the beginning of the party system, every loss was followed by a refocus on winning back power for your party.

What happens when the independent majority rejects Republicans, replaces it with Democrats, then rejects Democrats too, only to bring back Republicans, and then decides that Republicans and Democrats are equally bad? What does the majority do then?

What do independents do in such a situation, without party ties to fall back on, when they realize that neither party is going to fix things. Democrats or Republicans would just blame the other party—they’ve done it for decades.

But independents? They actually, seriously, want a solution. They want the nation to work, and they are unlikely to settle for anything less than real change.

And what if unemployment increases during all this, or credit availability tightens again, the recession returns, inflation spikes, another housing bubble bursts, or debts and deficits soar?

One thing seems certain: We are in for a wild ride in the years ahead.

Probably a few independents will give up on politics. Others will go back to the parties.

But the large majority, I think, will do neither. They will likely flirt with the idea of a new third party, but I doubt they’ll make this stick. They just aren’t wired for it. They want common-sense leadership, not more party game-playing.

There will, inevitably, be a few on the fringes (left and right) who wrongly advocate violence—“pitchforks in the street!” But beyond being morally wrong this course would also accomplish nothing positive.

It would, if ever followed by anyone, only serve to decrease our freedoms. And fortunately very few independents would support this anyway.

What if Elections Don’t Work?

What is the majority to do if elections don’t change things and solve our national problems? Maybe we won’t have to find out.

Maybe Democrats in leadership will turn pragmatic and get control of over-spending and over-regulation, or maybe Republicans will gain more power and make these desperately-needed changes.

But I don’t think most independents are holding their breath in anticipation of either of these possibilities.

The Tea Parties have given many on the right hope for the potential of the 2010 election, but it seems to me that most independents are unconvinced.

They have turned their backs on the Obama agenda because it is so clearly against their economically responsible values, and because it’s too late to do much except vote.

But in reality they are simply buying time. A lot of independents right now are studying things out in their minds, hoping but not really believing that the November elections will help things turn around.

The problem is big: Neither party is going to stop spending and regulating, promising frugality and then just spending more anyway. This is American politics now, and it isn’t likely to change easily.

A lot of independents are just now accepting this. And as it sinks in, they are responding with neither anger nor frustration. Instead, they are taking a step back and asking serious questions.

It is unclear now what the answers will eventually be. But they are coming, and they are likely to bring drastic changes to American politics in the next decade.

If (when?) the independents and tea parties win big on election day and then watch the new leaders keep increasing spending and regulations, they will be faced with the challenge every powerful nation in decline confronts:

  • Do they settle for Orwell’s “stupidity,” put their heads in the sand and just try to get by as best they can while the ruling class runs the nation into the ground?
  • Do they quietly prepare for the major crisis which must come unless we change course, organizing their personal affairs to somehow survive, protect their family, and perhaps even profit when it comes?
  • Or do they do something wise and effective that will restore America’s freedoms and prosperity?
  • And if they choose the latter, what precisely should they do to accomplish this?

This is the challenge of independents and all who love freedom in our time. The election of November 2, 2010 will come and go. Americans will vote, the media will report, and winners and losers will celebrate and mourn. But these larger questions will remain.

If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be the first to cheer. But I’m convinced that it’s time (past time, in fact) for those who care about freedom to get to work on coming up with real solutions.

In taking this kind of action, any citizen will only make herself a better leader in our time. Whatever the future holds, more leader-citizens are needed.

And the time may be coming when such leaders are the only real hope of our nation.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd Online.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

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What if Elections Can’t Fix Washington?