What Republicans and Democrats Still Need to Do

On August 2 the world watched the conclusion of Congress’s recent and embarrassing failure to address time-critical debt ceiling and budget decisions until the very last possible moment. It was very possibly the first time in recorded history that Communist China lambasted the United States in a rant almost everybody here in the United States could actually agree with.

We averted a credit default, but the solution was a draconian compromise that’s sure to please nobody. The compromise left untouched revenue strategies, our dire unemployment picture, and the need to balance the budget. If any modern American corporation conducted its management planning the way our senators and house representatives do, its Board would have long ago fired the lot of them. That situation is hardly new.

Our underperforming Congress largely falls back on a blizzard of blamestorming to excuse its failure to execute. If you’re a Republican, it’s the fault of those intransigent liberal socialists who are trying to kill off the goose that laid the golden egg. If you’re a Democrat, it’s those fascistic neoconservative plutocrats who are again trying to push the U.S. working class into virtual serfdom.

Personally, I’m a lapsed conservative, a long-time Republican voter who switched to Libertarian and finally re-registered with the Democratic Party to voice my dissatisfaction. I still fail to understand why the party with the longest track record of respect for personal liberty, individual initiative and enterprise remains the party with the longest modern tradition of indifference or outright hostility to the civil liberties and constitutional rights … of others.

I think the current dysfunction is equally the fault of BOTH parties.

A larger part of the problem is that our representatives seem to have forgotten they were elected into office to uphold the best interests of the whole United States of America. A parallel part of that problem is that they forget that they’re sworn to represent ALL of the voters of their state or district, not just the fraction who voted for a particular party candidate. An important final part of the problem is that they seem to have forgotten their manners. They no longer listen to each other.

But Mom could have told us that. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Ideological differences are vital to a healthy multi-party state, but they are never an excuse for not “overcoming objections” of the other side.

Anyone in sales could tell us that. To close the sale, you need to sell the virtues of your new product or service and the price you propose to exact for it. But you also need to address legitimate business concerns about buying into the Product and forsaking other alternatives. Do we have to send all our senators and representatives back to the Dale Carnegie or “Zig Ziglar” charm schools?

One of the main reasons for the exceptionally vitriolic Budget stalemate is of course that the Budget isn’t just our primary accounting tool. Controlling the purse-strings is our political way of favoring certain ideological policies and groups while shutting others out. That’s morally wrong, a form of corruption we call “graft.” It’s close to political treason.

On a whole variety of fronts, not just economic, each ideology is certain the other is trying to shut them out. And that’s not just a paranoid delusion, it’s an accurate description of what’s actually happening. That’s the real motive for the stalemate.

On the economic front, the shrinking U.S. middle class is tangible proof that national economic policy already favors the already-very-wealthy. Republicans offer stale bromides as their only solution, such as “trickle-down effect” and the equally disproved idea that low taxes create more jobs. Democrats offer stale bromides demonizing big business and calling for a ruinous spending program at a time when the nation has already exhausted its resources with ruinous wars and domestic spending programs.

Across a large swath of constituents and parties, it’s all about “Hoorah, I say HOORAH for me, and f*** you.”

Given that honest, hard-working citizens sometimes still staff American corporations and small businesses, it cannot really be true that all private enterprise match the likes of Enron, Lehman and Bernie Madoff. Without that great American enterprise engine, we will just be another comfortable island nation.

Given Enron, Lehman and Bernie Madoff, given that American jobs went south to Pune, India, given that the American automobile manufacturing was ruined and bankrupted by its own captains of industry, and given that both Great Recessions were caused by the fatuous greed and fundamental dishonesty of business leaders in BOTH the American banking and American security industries, it is time to ask why the fox is again guarding the hen-house.

We have a few upstanding members of Congress in both parties who deserve praise for staying the course. Sometimes it still seems that more of the rest of the current crop are unprofessional charlatans and populist-jingoism yahoos than in any other era since the Civil War. Remembering the 1950’s McCarthy era, followed by the redneck 1960’s, hopefully that isn’t true.

But no wonder the New York Times reports “a record 82 percent of Americans now disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.”

Democrats need to understand that government attempts to regulate private industry have failed because of the inefficiencies of government bureaucracy and regulatory susceptibility to sleeping with the foxes.

Republicans need to come to grips with the established fact that private enterprise has largely failed to regulate its own excesses. The libertarian model holds that private enterprise needs to be self-regulating and the market will ruthlessly eliminate businesses that fail to do so. That has not happened in two hundred years. There is little reason to expect, left to its own devices, it ever will.

Democrats and Republicans both need to look at what’s worked – and what hasn’t – with private ratings agencies such as Moody’s and S&P. This is one area where American private regulatory functions still command the respect of the world. Another is commercial property and liability insurance, which has probably done more to enforce building code standards and worker safety than all the fire departments and OSHA’s in the country combined.

The bad news for conservatives is that it could take a hundred years to build a private regulatory infrastructure with a track record inspiring overwhelming public confidence. That’s a hundred years we haven’t got. As long as industry hasn’t cleaned up its abysmal track record, Congress is going to have to roll up its collective shirt sleeves and continue hammering out painful compromises.

And while they’re at it, someone ought to tell them we need a balanced Federal Budget, but if we don’t get Americans back to work soon, we won’t much need a Budget either. Investors and industry are waiting for “business as usual”, but as much as they hate government regulation, it seems they’re waiting to get moving again until we have more of it. “No taxes but more subsidies” is hypocritical and just doesn’t cut it anymore.

We haven’t even discussed ideological differences in ecology and the environment, climate change, mineral resource extraction and allocation, energy, health care, infrastructure repair, to name a few. There’s hardly a point in this until we can establish common ground in one area. Hell, the Supreme Court is as ideologically paralyzed as Congress. If Congress can’t do the job it was hired to perform, oust the rascals. And maybe it’s time to explore some compulsory third-party binding arbitration method of dispute resolution: like bipartisan panels and think-tanks, GAO or – perish the thought – direct popular vote.

Meanwhile, at some point someone is going to have to blink first and put a FOR HIRE sign in the front window and get us all moving again.

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