I don't know about you, but I am frustrated.  

We are at the start of another political season to "decide the fate of America."  But we all know, deep down, that when we listen to the two political parties nothing is going to change even though change is something we desperately need.  

I am not talking about "change you can believe in" or change that will "restore American values."  Those are just simplistic political talking points that clearly do not translate into real change that will help the American middle class, Main Street businesses, the healthcare industry or anyone else that really needs and wants their lot in life to improve.

This latest economic downturn has exposed deep structural problems in our society, according to David Brooks, a conservative columnist for The New York Times. He argues that the solutions by America's two-party system are not addressing the critical issues of our time:

  • Unsustainable levels of debt
  • Inability to generate middle class incomes
  • Dysfunctional political system
  • Steady growth in the dominance of special interests
  • Gradual loss of national vitality

"The number of business start-ups per capita has been falling steadily since 1983.  Male wages have been stagnant for about 40 years. The American working class — those without a college degree — is being decimated, economically and socially.  In 1960, 83 percent of the working class were married. Now only 48 percent are," Mr. Brooks writes.

"Large majorities think the country is on the wrong track and have for years.  Large pluralities believe their children will have fewer opportunities than they do.

"Voters are in the market for new movements and new combinations, yet the two political parties have grown more rigid."

Mr. Brooks, who is protesting that he and his colleagues will have to cover yet another political season absent any new creative thinking, goes to the heart of the matter with his criticism of the current orthodoxy of Republicans and Democrats. 

The core belief of the Republican party that smaller government is the answer appears to be based on a belief that the American people will not do something really stupid en masse. But we did.  We may want to point our finger at Congress and recent Presidents, but we voters are just as guilty in terms of our deficit spending. As a nation we have lived above our means for years, from buying bigger houses than we could afford and taking on new home equity debt with the silly belief that real estate values would never fall, to purchasing a lifestyle we could just as easily do without.  All of it using borrowed money. All the while our government failed to use the regulations already on the books to make the mortgage loan industry and Wall Street bankers do the right thing.  Their bad behavior may have sparked the crisis, but if not this calamity, something else would have come along.  In looking over the last 10 years, if you take out the devastating real estate bubble, job growth in the U.S. has been essentially flat since 2000.

Today, "the Republican growth agenda offers tax cuts and not much else," Mr. Brooks contends, "…they do nothing to address the structural problems that are causing the working class crisis."  The GOP plan is "fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible. 

"They do not design policies to help their own working class voters," Mr. Brooks says. Rather, they use policy proposals as "signaling devices  – as ways to assure the base that they are 100 percent orthodox and rigidly loyal.

"As for the Democrats, they offer practically nothing.  They acknowledge huge problems like wage stagnation and then offer…light rail! Solar panels!

"It was telling that the Democrats offered no budget this year even though they are supposedly running the country. That is because they are trapped in a bygone era.  

"Mentally, they are living in an era of affluence, but actually they are living in an era of austerity. They have these great spending ideas but there is no longer any money to pay for them and there won't be for decades. Democrats dream New Deal dreams, propose nothing and try to win elections by making sure nobody touches Medicare," Mr. Brooks writes

Mr. Brooks believes that covering the upcoming election will be akin to "covering competition between two Soviet refrigerator companies, cold-war relics offering products that never change."

I have come to believe that while we may be a nation of incredible thinkers who are capable to creating enormous economic growth, our political class, with only a few exceptions, is content with the new lows of group think that sucks the air right out of the room.  At a critical time when solutions are needed, solving problems is now secondary to re-election, and we all know it.

The American people want answers and action to deliver real solutions. Let's hope they will not settle for sound bites, clever disinformation, and political jingoisms that characterized our last three political campaigns. I sense that we are approaching a tipping point. I am just not sure what is going to happen when the tip occurs and that concerns me. 

As a former reporter, there are some questions I would like to ask the candidates if I were on the campaign trail.   

What about you?  What would you ask the President and the gaggle of Republicans who aspire to lead?  Remember, whatever they propose in the way of a solution, you will get the tab.

© 2011 John Gregory Self

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