Elections have consequences. We’ve heard that adage for so long that it sounds hackneyed. Witness the paroxysms that the Political Class in Washington is now undergoing as the freshman class of 2010, the Tea Party class, flexes its muscles in this contest over raising the debt ceiling. Oh, yes, Virginia, elections do have consequences.
Amid the tumult of all the talking heads, the pollsters, the spin doctors, and the sound bytes lay the most simple of facts. Those who were sent to Washington with Tea Party credentials mean what they say. They have the courage of conviction to represent their constituents as they had promised to do. They are being coerced, bullied, and perhaps bribed, with that intoxicant that is uniquely Washingtonian: Political Power. Choice committee assignments dangle like sugarplums to a child at Christmas. Promises of fundraising support abound. These are the carrots. On the darker side lay the sticks. “Vote with the Political Class or we will gerrymander your district out of existence.” Go along to get along.
These intrepid legislators deserve our admiration. Who in Washington knows us better than we do? No one. Would that we all could enjoy the refreshing prospect of having our opinions count when it comes to government.
On Friday night, the House of Representatives passed a debt increase bill with associated spending reductions. The ball is now in the court of the US Senate and eventually a conference committee and finally to the President of the United States. This has not been a pretty process but it is a uniquely American process.
One of the most enjoyable things about working for a multi-national corporation and gallivanting around the world as I often do is that I get to “sell” America at every turn. Traveling business people are ambassadors, of sorts, in promoting and explaining the American way of life to a usually very interested audience across the planet. This has always been the case for me since I began to travel abroad in 1975.
I have consistently traveled through good economic times and bad, under Republican and Democrat political administrations and in times of high and low American favorability ratings. People have always been curious about pop culture, fashion and Hollywood. Our form of government has is usually puzzling to non-Americans and I have lately been fielding an increasing number of questions about our two parties.
Most of the world has a Parliamentary form of government where multiple parties attempt to build a coalition. The leader of the party that can form a governing majority typically becomes the Prime Minister. Most people simply concern themselves with voting for the candidate whose political party most aligns with their point of view. The process then takes care of forming the government. It lasts about as long as the coalition can hold together. Elections are called over a lost vote of confidence or when confidence is high enough to reset the term clock.
The Parliamentary form of government yields mixed results. Italy, notorious for high turnover, has had 61 governments since 1945 and sports 6 major parties and 28 minor parties. The United Kingdom has three major parties and dozen or more minor parties and has had 18 governments since 1945. Not so in America. We have but two major parties. Individual philosophies are somehow stuffed into either of the two camps.
So the number one question from abroad for me has been this: “Describe the difference between the Republicans and Democrats.” It used to be fairly easy to answer something like this: The Republicans generally favor conservative values and small government; the Democrats are socially liberal and tend to encourage large government and big ticket spending. That used to work just fine until the first decade of this century dawned with a new Republican President and Republican Congress. The Cliff Notes went out the window.
What we have witnessed is the solidification of the Political Class. In Washington, there is something for everybody in power but it all comes out of the pockets of those who pay for it. People like you and me. When the Tea Party movement took American by storm in 2009, there were really two directions it could take. Perhaps the easiest course would have been to create a third party. An independent party. But the cruel reality was that the Republican vote would become split. The last time that happened, Bill Clinton became President as H. Ross Perot took nearly 20% of the national vote largely at the expense of George Bush the Elder. So, the Tea Party, diverse a movement as it is, elected to work through the existing Republican party with the hope of changing it from within. And so, it has become an effective third party with all the rights and privileges thereof.
I am a merchant sailor at heart. In my recollection, the saltiest of seamen would have eight letters tattooed across the knuckles of both hands so that when they clenched their fists together they would spell out “hold fast.” First, make something secure and then keep it from slipping. Hold fast. Stop the spiral of “borrow and spend” and put in controls to prevent that discipline from slipping. Hold fast. Resist the temptation to become another career politician more interested in preserving a notion of personal prerogative than constituent representation. Hold fast. And that is what I wish for our brethren in DC. Hold fast.