If there’s one word that I’d pick to describe the mood of the United States citizenry today, it’s “polarized”. Increasingly, it seems like we’re split nearly right down the middle on most of the big issues, with equally loud voices on both sides trying to drown out their opponents. Compromise has become known as a bad word, with many believing that it leads only to wishy-washy policies that are useless to both sides, and that the only way out of our problems is to ruthlessly stifle the efforts of anyone who doesn’t agree with our ideologies. It’s kind of a depressing state of affairs, really.
Yesterday, however, after a perfect storm of news stories came together to put a new perspective on my thinking, I began to wonder if it’s all just a giant distraction for the vast majority of Americans…a distraction from what really ails us. We talk about “both sides” of the political equation — Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives — but are the people who wear those badges in our elected offices really representing what the common-man liberal or common-man conservative seeks? In my opinion, no. At least not where it counts.
What are they representing, you ask? Themselves, and their largest donors. That’s who. Not you.
The more I look at both sides of the political argument, the more I realize that there are compelling principles held dear by each…as well as some incredibly stupid ones that threaten to poison the whole barrel of wine. I can get on board with the consumer protections, firewalls against unchecked greed and thievery and progressive social policies of the left. I also can get on board with the fiscal conservatism, arguments for individual liberties and personal responsibility of the right. The problem is that, at the end of the day, both sides want to control you. The only difference is the agent of that control. The left wants the government to act as the agent, while the right wants it to be large corporations, banks and other collectives that they consider to have “individual rights”. I increasingly feel like a rat trapped between two walls that are closing in on him, spending his last days rushing back and forth between the two approaching barriers in an attempt to escape the evils of first one and then the other.
Liberals seem to believe that we are incapable of keeping ourselves safe, incapable of paying our own way, incapable of making the right decisions for ourselves or for society. So they’ll make them for us, by virtue of product bans, laws penalizing little more than behavior choices, and by forcing companies and individuals in the private sector to act in a way that they think is correct. The city of San Francisco is perhaps the premier example of this with their regulation of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and banning of plastic grocery bags, and then there are the 32 oz. soft drink bans and salt content regulation that New York City imposed on its restaurants. And that’s without even mentioning the insane amounts of paperwork, process and busywork needed when interfacing with the government for anything, be it a visa to enter the country or an application for a mortgage loan. My mom even reported that, as part of their application for a mortgage this month, the government required that she provide them a copy of a rebate check from a car dealer to prove the source of a $10 deposit to her account. This is government control run absolutely amok.
The present government administration, which belongs firmly in the liberal camp, has already run up a nationally unprecedented debt by doing the equivalent of buying plasma TVs, adding home renovations and leasing two new cars after the family breadwinner has just lost his or her job. There seems to be no end to their unchecked thirst for new taxes, new fees, new regulations that make it harder for individuals and corporations to get ahead, and which make it more expensive to simply live and let live. The way our governments today, at nearly all levels, want to observe and control every aspect of everything we do should be frightening the hell out of each and every person in this country — at least, those who aren’t too stupid to notice.
On the flipside, conservatives want the government’s hands out of
our companies’ pockets. With less regulation, they argue, the free market will be as free as its name stipulates: free to check and balance itself, exactly as it was designed to operate. Except that’s mostly a fallacy anymore, since just a small handful of extremely powerful corporations tend to set the tone, if not outright control, the forces in an entire market segment. When was the last time a major airline raised ticket prices and all the rest of them didn’t immediately follow suit? With merger after merger being approved by the FTC, how much choice do you really have in certain sectors of this “free” market? And when conservatives want government to get out of business, they also want to ensure that businesses aren’t bothered by any pesky laws that might protect the health and sanity of the employees who power them, like vacation days, sick pay, benefits or minimum wages. No; they’d like corporations to be able to reap maximum profits by using you as a disposable tool that they buy for a pittance in the third world, run extremely hard, and then throw away when it breaks years before its prime. And that’s without even mentioning how they screw their customers.
Speaking of which, get a load of the latest news about the recent Visa/Mastercard settlement. The takeaway for consumers is that merchants will now be allowed to pass along to you any transaction fees that they pay when you make your purchase with a credit card. Oh, excellent! What a step forward! Of course, you’ll notice pundits twisting the story to spin it in a positive direction, claiming that what this really means is that you might start getting a discount for paying with cash instead of plastic. No you won’t. The cash price will be the price you’ve always paid. The credit card price will now be 1% to 3% higher, just because the merchant you’re dealing with thinks that all of its costs of doing business should be borne by you. (I won’t be surprised if the next below-the-line fee on your checkout slip is a surcharge to cover “your part” of the store’s water and electricity bills.) And before the conservative wonks chime in with their predictable “Then vote with your wallet and shop somewhere else!”, why don’t you ask how that’s working out for my parents in the Detroit area — an area where gas stations never stopped charging extra for credit card transactions after the 2008 oil price runup. It is impossible to find a station that doesn’t follow that practice, because as one retailer goes, so go the rest. This is the free market at work? Seems to me like there’s a select few for whom it’s really working.
At the end of the day, I have a feeling that I’m like a large percentage of Americans: I work very hard for long hours, I fight for my share of an increasingly expensive and ever-shrinking pool of benefits, and I shake my head as the political war is seemingly waged by two equally nefarious and self-aggrandizing forces, neither of which represent the individual in any real way whatsoever. Which is probably why, despite the historic significance of this fall’s upcoming election, I will probably do like I did in ’08 and vote for the Libertarian candidate. Even though I know it won’t make a difference. Even though I’ll just be throwing my vote away. Even though Libertarianism, despite how it resonates with me, can’t possibly work because too large a percentage of humanity is too idiotic, too unethical and too irresponsible for a system that relies on individual responsibility. In spite of all this, I cannot and will not cast a vote of support for anything even partially resembling the narcissistic, power-mad dreck that seeps like pus from the festering growths that are the two major parties of our political system.
I would ask each and every one of you to think very hard about what is really going on behind the scenes at your favorite political party, and ask yourself if a vote for them will bring a material improvement to the future of the United States of America, or only a financial improvement to the elite few who run it. A movement to change the political status quo must begin in our smallest communities, during primaries and hometown elections where citizens must choose to elect men and women with morals and ethics, not merely a servile allegiance to one party or another. The onus is on us, to vote not for the candidate who will give us the most freebies or most richly line our pockets at the expense of the foundation upon which our country is built, but for the candidate who will work to build and protect a prosperous and solvent future for this entire nation and all of its people.
If you fail to do that, just keep in mind that when the house burns down, it will be long past time to fight over what color to paint its rooms.