Monday, June 30, 2008

Return to Ordinary Politics

Charles Krauthammer's column in the Washington Post struck a vein about the 2008 election I had been noticing. Namely that Barack Obama has made a transition toward becoming an ordinary politician. Surely, John McCain isn't doing a great deal to put forward novel policy ideas, but he is the less fresh of the two, despite his reputation as a maverick.

Obama, though promising "change," has backed away from his more provacative campaign-trail promises and now seems to offer a palate of generic larger-government Democratic ideas. Perhaps this comes from trying to appeal to Hillary Clinton's constituents. Regardless, this candidate that seems to have a chance to redefine Democratic ideals is seeming to hesitate at the opportunity.

Both parties have so far been close-lipped about their proposals for change. The only whiff of change I get from Republican circles comes via a Kevin Ferris column in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He wrote of a five-term Republican Congressman from Wisconsin who was proposing a whole host of different solutions for economic issues: from a dual-method approach toward income tax to encouragement of private market reform to medical care. Some of his ideas were novel, some unrealistic. But I applaud the effort.

Perhaps the new generation that will come to dominate Washington between now and 2012 can start to redefine how the government collects and uses money. Two unrelated topics come to mind.

The first of these is highway and transporation improvment. State governments are finding themselves pressed to improve their infrastructure. A recent Economist article talked of how America underfunds its infrastructure (relative to other developed and BRICS nations). Should Congress reevalute the amount of and uses for the federal gasoline excise tax? Is it time to consider an excise tax on the purchase of automobiles (after all, the majority of those sold are foreign anyway)? Before the states create their own confusing quilt of toll roads, the federal government might need to give it some form. One idea: toll interstate highways that end in "0" and "5". These are the principal throughroutes anyway. The money from those tolls could then go toward state programs that improve highway structures.

Secondly, it might be time to reevaluate some existing entitlement programs. The Democrats are hitting a strident populist tune about medical coverage for all Americans. I remain highly suspicious of the Democrats' proposals and intentions. This is a party that is often guilty of ignoring the long-term consequences of goals that seem right and good in the short term. As I hear these populist appeals for universal health care, I can't help but wonder why Medicare isn't doing the trick. A quick trip to doesn't reveal what the goals of that program are. But Medicare receives $2.30 for every $100 I earn (1.15% from my check and from my employer each). My wife and I together contribute more than $3,000 each year to the program. To what end is that money going? Before we embark on an expensive entitlement program, don't we owe it to ourself to see why the forty-some-year-old institution that takes from every Americans' income isn't helping all Americans have access to medical care.

If the Democrats do indeed win in 2012 (they'll at least have Congress), I hope they think before acting.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's been the sort of political season where virtually every prediction I made proved wrong. It took some time for me to figure out that John McCain would indeed win the GOP nomination. Then, for the longest time I held firm to my prediction that Hillary Clinton would figure out some way to get the Democratic nomination. I constantly made predictions to my high school studnets about when someone or another would have to drop out of the race, predictions that rarely materialized. Then, when the slate of McCain vs. Obama was set, I was fairly confident that McCain would easily win such a prediction.

Today it came over me, though, that I'm probably wrong on that one, too. I once heard political analyst Terry Madonna speak of the cyclical rhythm to American politics whereby Republicans and Democrats trade forty-year periods of hegemony in federal politics. I've thought 2012 would be the year in which party that Reagan created gave way to a new Democratic order. My reasoning? The Democrats hadn't yet articulated a vision of what they were for, just what they were against (that being President Bush). Until they could put forth an image of what they were seting forth to do in office, they weren't ready for their turn at the helm.

It's dawned on me in the past couple of days, however, that the Republicans aren't really putting forth any consistent image of what they hope to do in office.

So this space in blogosphere begins with a dispirited moderate Republican who is convinced that he's about to begin a period of forty years in something of a political wilderness, the supporter of a party that will be mostly in the minority. This will consistute the bulk of my adulthood. Does one respond to this with cynicism? With introspection? With dispair?

An article in the most recent The Economist talked of how Americans increasingly surround themselves with people of similiar political leanings, and of how American increasingly avoid political conversations with people with whom they know they'll disagree. Americans tune into news broadcasts from networks they expect to echo their own ideology. Perhaps responding to a new reality of being in the minority means prompting the sort of dialogue that gets Americans to question more often the policies they hope their leaders will implement.