I recently heard a commentary about the struggle between Republicans and Democrats on Vermont Public Radio that seemed counter intuitive, if not totally mistaken.
In “Battle of the Titans”, Bill Schubart argues that the battle in Washington:
is not over a balanced budget. It is not between the rich and the poor. It’s not between business and consumers. It’s not about the environment. It’s not about Sara Palin’s intellect or the entropic Tea Party.
What is it really about? It is a “deadly serious battle of philosophies” pitting an “experienced dinosaur with clear objectives and a well conceived strategy for winning” against, you guessed it, “a disorganized dinosaur with good intentions and no strategy”, aka, Democrats.
In light of recent Republican missteps around Medicare (last year’s defenders of Medicare now want to eliminate the program) I would quarrel with this assessment. What intrigues me is his statement:
If Democrats continue to measure projected outcomes of this battle by unwanted pregnancies, high school dropouts, starving seniors, uncared-for-vets, or the medically uninsured, they will lose this fight.
Why should talk about the negative consequences of Republican policies be ineffective, or worse, be counterproductive? Could such talk increase support for Republican policies?
I do not believe that describing the financial consequences on senior citizens of transforming Medicare into a voucher program is a bad strategy. In fact, Republicans facing pressure from voters have back pedaled on the voucher plan. Articulating the consequences of proposed policies in the form of stories told by “real people” makes sense, but is it enough?
Is the alternative a philosophical debate about the role of government? My view is that today more than ever we need a debate about the role of government, a collective government 101 course that fully confronts the chasm separating the two parties. As an opposition party Republicans have embraced not “limited government” but “no government”.
Implicit in their belief system is that business, regulated only by the constraints of a free market, can manage any complex socio-economic system better than government.
I am not optimistic that we can have a productive debate over fundamentals. Such as debate is likely to be too abstract and demanding for voters. What is the incentive to engage in this debate? I do not have an answer.
But, there might be a third possibility, perhaps not as abstract, linked to practical outcomes of interest to voters. Again, Bill Schubart:
Personally, I believe in the possibility of good government. One that is wholly transparent and accountable to its citizens. If we focused more on framing the elements of good government and less on circling one another and trumpeting our philosophical differences we might make progress.
Transparency, accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency are arguably elements of “good government”. On the other hand, Republican-Libertarians are not interested in “good” government. Maybe Schubart is right on target. A philosophical debate about the role of government is far less useful than making “good” government work.