It’s hard to know where it began. A few months ago I read an article on the internet that claimed that the moment bipartisan amity in Congress began to end was with the uncharitable and immensely hostile denial of confirmation from eminent jurist Robert Bork. After that the tit-for-tat treatment of Rep. Jim Wright showed that the mood had soured on both parties. From that time, despite the fact that Republicans (especially) have sought to nominate fairly moderate candidates like Bush I and Bush II, Dole, and McCain, and despite the fact that even some Democratic candidates (like Clinton and Obama) have tried to at least talk a bipartisan language of rising above divisions, the hostility between liberal and conservative camps has steadily worsened.
During this time my own political views have considerably soured as the political and economic environment has gotten increasingly gloomy. As I have had opportunity to reflect on the shift in my own political approach, even if my underlying worldview has remained the same, I thought it worthwhile to share my story in the hope that it would encourage others to do the same and help us understand aspects of a darkening mood that may apply to others besides myself. I therefore beg the indulgence to talk about my own personal story.
I have never been rich. I have never even been middle class. During my thirty years of life, I have never earned even $40,000 a year. In 2010, I earned about $10,000 a year, if earnings include depleting a Roth IRA, largely through abysmal failures at trying to be a successful salesman, and I had to pay $1,000 of that out of pocket to the IRS. In 2011, I made even less, having spent most of the year as a missionary teacher in Thailand, aside from a couple months working at a company scoring essays for high school students from New Jersey.
And my family has never been wealthy either. My father, who died in 2006, came from a dairy farming family who worked as a school bus driver in Western Pennsylvania (where I was born) to subsidize the money-losing operation. My mother, who collects SSI for various ailments, had her longest and most successful job working in various clerical or lower management positions for the Tampa Housing Authority among a very corrupt group of people, many of whom have spent time in prison for their activities. My stepfather has spent most of his years working as a file clerk, in janitorial work, or as a groundskeeper (made impossible by his advancing age–he’s in his mid 60’s now–as well as a series of surgeries for a recurring accoustic neuroma tumor. Not only have I never been wealthy or middle class, neither has my family as a whole.
I first became passionately interested in politics in 1992, where my sixth grade school held a mock election and I voted for George W. Bush, despite no great enthusiasm for him. My father favored Perot, being a deeply conservative but not Republican person, although he was a secretary for the local bus driver’s union, part of the AFL-CIO until the union was busted (which was a disaster for my father, lowering his wages more than $2/hour, to below $10/hour as a bus driver). That lowering of his standard of living forced him to call the Florida Department of Revenue, Child Support enforcement, for whom my mother worked at the time, and coincidentally my mother answered the phone call from my father. That was embarrassing. My stepfather, especially after his tumors, has had an avid interest in conservative talk radio. Though I’m not generally fond of listening to idiot callers, I’m a fairly patient listener to such things–my mother is not. My mother’s political views are far more liberal, though she likes to pass herself off as far more conservative than she is. I certainly didn’t get my own political views from my family.
In looking at the political situation today, it is easy to think of the capers in Washington DC in the same sort of soap operative view which which I cynically view my own family background. Congressmen engage in insider trading, and show an utter incompetence in passing laws, loading up on the pork and passing laws that they don’t even bother to read (because each law is the size of, or larger than, Middlemarch or War & Peace, and more dull). We elect a majority in the House and Republicans there can’t even bother to hold firm for keeping our runaway debt in line, looking like incompetent bunglers with no backbone and no principles, no ability to restrain our nation from its steadfast and increasingly rapid march into insolvency and decline.
And yet we cannot blame our government for fiscal irresponsibility when we ourselves have the same problem personally. My own hands are not clean in such matters. Grimly I reflect on the $40-$50,000 I owe for college loans, the credit cards, and other debts, without seeing any ability to pay them off given the current sorry state of my personal economy. I make $33 a month teaching, and almost all of that goes for food. As much as I believe in fiscal restraint, you need resources to pay off debts, and neither our state or federal governments nor many of us ourselves (like I) have the means to become solvent. It bothers me, though, deeply, and it also bothers me how little the debt seems to bother those in Washington.
In 2008, I recognized that our Republic was at a crucial moment. I felt that difficult times were on the horizon, though I had no way of knowing how prolonged or difficult they would end up for me personally. I supported McCain in 2008, hoping that his show of good faith as a bridge between Republicans and Democrats would help provide a chance at avoiding disaster. That was not to be, as the Democrats elected the least qualified candidate for office in at least the last 150 years (if not ever) and proceeded to turn what was a dangerous societal situation into impending disaster. As 2010 turned into 2011 and a year was spent fretting over our betrayal of loyal allies, endless sensationalized unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, and a continuing series of debt crises where politicians played kick the can and refused to act like statesmen, my concern grew as the worldwide mood darkened.
Having seen that there is no interest in a principled or reasonable solution to our political and economic crisis from Democrats, nor any spine or backbone from our elected Republican Senators and Representatives, I feel as pessimistic as many people here are. And yet the spineless Republicans are spineless because they don’t feel as if their voters have their back. Will voters turn on them if a government shutdown happens and those who suck at the teat of big government (like my mother) have their Social Security or welfare checks or EBT taken away? Probably. Are the 48% of voters who pay nothing to the government willing to pay something, anything, to have a share in government? Probably not? Are those spineless politicians failing absolutely to provide a vision of why drastic (if painful) action is necessary for all of us to face and showing us an example by taking a cut themselves in their own standard of living to show they are serious about reducing unsustainable deficits? Absolutely. We all share some blame in the matter.
And so I have become convinced that when there is no choice but to either slash at the entitlements that are strangling our nation and hastening our decline as a superpower, and that day is rapidly approaching, there will be war. Those who are politically and economically profiting from corporate bailouts or subsidies, whether they be crony capitalists at companies like Bain Capital, Iowa corn farmers, Obama’s buddies at Solyndra, or ordinary people who receive their monthly check from the government or who spend a year or two on unemployment, will not accept the loss of their funding.
And sooner or later (and probably sooner), the golden goose of the taxpayer will no longer be able to keep funding endless runaway deficits as interest rates on debt service increase and as personal insolvency becomes more and more common of a threat. The only options at that point will be massive default or hyperinflation, and we will all be much worse off then. But we will still blame our Congress. We will blame the poor schmuck in office who is unlucky enough to have to explain to the American people that we are as bankrupt economically as we are morally and politically. We will point the fingers at others, like the protestors who blame the 1% but don’t see that they too, like me, helped make this situation worse by gambling that a little debt now would mean greater opportunities for wealth later. Those opportunities for good jobs at high salaries never came, those days of increased salaries to pay off student loans never arrived. And we are all to blame in some fashion, for playing along with the game for far too long.
And so, as the political mood of this country has darkened, I take a look at myself and recognize that I have done my fair share (and perhaps more) to elect people with no spine to fight against our decline. I have engaged in personal behavior that has endangered my own well being and contributed to the burden borne by society at large. And there is nothing I can do about what I have done–or what anyone else has done–and I do not know if there is a time and an opportunity left to make amends or to reverse the damage. And if that is so for someone who is highly educated, deeply interested in politics, and deeply reflective and concerned for the well-being not only of myself but also of my people, how much is it true of those who reflect less or are less concerned with the world outside of their own lives and favorite reality television shows? A republic like ours gets the leaders it deserves, and if we don’t like the mayors or the school superintendents or the state senators or the governors or the Congressmen or the Presidential candidates we have, we need to take a look at ourselves, because such candidates have to come from among our people and have to receive the support of the people. Unless we are noble and principled and honorable ourselves, and unless we value such qualities in our leaders, how can we expect good leaders to save our nation from ourselves if we ourselves cannot take our hand from the cookie jar?