Independence Day 2011

How embarrassing.

Two hundred and thirty five years ago, patriots gathered in Philadelphia to pledge their wealth, their lives, and their sacred honor for America’s independence.

What do we have today? A Congress filled with men and women who exchange their pledges for payments from PACs; who care more about entitlements for the AARP and tax cuts for millionaires than for generational equity; who, if they ever had any honor, quickly swapped it for the cheers and the cash from the Tea Party or the labor union.

Most of them are home this weekend, riding in 4th of July parades. When you see them waving from the back of the convertible yell at them, “Get your ass back to Washington and do the job you were elected to do.”

Instead of honoring and enhancing the system of government envisioned by those men in Philadelphia, they have made a mockery of it through ideological idiocy, partisan intransigence, and a level of integrity that would make a carnival barker blush.

In 2000 I was a supporter of McCain and made the largest political contribution of my life. He had the courage to stand up against the religious right and had a career in the Senate of reaching across party lines and maintaining personal integrity. I deserted him in 2008 mostly because to win the nomination he pandered to the very same far right constituencies that he had rejected eight years earlier (the very same strategy that Romney is now pursuing).

So I voted for Obama. And on Election Day I was in China at the World Urban Forum as the results were announced. In faces from all over the world was apparent a renewed belief that America had reestablished its credentials as the beacon of freedom and opportunity for people in every part of the globe.

What has happened in the last two and a half years? The sensible center (historically with members of both parties) has virtually disappeared and the level of disingenuousness is off the charts. Recent elections have been terrible for anyone in either party with centrist leanings. Mike Castle in Delaware dumped by a right wing lunatic in the Republican primary. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska Republican) was dumped by her party and was only reelected as an Independent (just like Joe Leiberman, Connecticut Democrat four years earlier). Stephanie Herseth, a popular moderate Democrat from my home state of South Dakota thrown out of office in the Tea Party driven Republican sweep.

So today, with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman (and time will tell on him) virtually every Republican candidate is competing on who can be more Tea Partyish than the Tea Party.

On the other side the left end of the Democratic Party has facilitated Obama being cast as a socialist or worse. Here is a guy with fundamental centrist leanings and an inclination to compromise and reach workable if not ideal solutions who has been damaged the most not by Republican but by Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leadership, and public employee unions.

And here are two examples of how this ideological polarization is manifesting itself. First, the $870 Billion Stimulus plan. Understand this – regardless of Republicans’ claims to the contrary, a stimulus plan was absolutely necessary to keep the world economy from absolute collapse. The problem wasn’t that a stimulus plan was passed, but that this huge amount of money was spent on the wrong things. Most of the money should have gone for long-term capital projects so that the next two generations who will be paying for it will at least have the assets. In fact only 10% of that money was spent on assets with lives longer than 20 years.

Unless you were a Democratic member of the appropriations committee you had no influence on what the money was spent for. The Pelosi arrogance of “we know what’s best, we don’t need your input” generated not only legitimate Republican hostility, but created the backlash image of Obama as out-of-control spender.

But here’s also what is never mentioned – almost $300 Billion of the stimulus plan was tax cuts. The Republicans keep saying, “We don’t need spending; we just need tax cuts to get us out of the recession.” If tax cuts were the answer the stimulus plan would have been a big success; instead it has been an incredible failure.

Example two – the current budget, debt ceiling debate. Republicans say absolutely no tax increases. Democrats say, no cutting of entitlements. Here is the simple truth: we cannot ever climb out of this deep and dangerous fiscal hole we are in without BOTH tax increases and entitlement cuts. Anyone who tells you differently is either knowingly lying to you or is too stupid to be in Congress. We have a Congress filled with men and women who are either liars or fools. How proud that must make the Founding Fathers.

Instead of leaders thinking about the future generation, we have politicians who value volume over logic. We have presidential contenders firmly in favor of the strict constructionism of the Constitution who are embarrassingly ignorant of the basic facts of American history.

For most of the 20th Century America moved towards realizing the aspirations of our Founding Fathers in a balanced, reasonable way. If the Democrats were the party of “rights”, the Republicans were the party of “responsibilities”. Today the Democrats are the party of entitlements and the Republicans the party of absurd political and fiscal irresponsibility.

I am certainly celebrating Independence Day. But I’m embarrassed and a bit ashamed that what we have now as heirs to the leadership of the Founding Fathers is this crop of political mendicants with an extraordinary combination of arrogance and ignorance and hypocrisy.

Forgive us, Founding Fathers, for we have sullied your names by electing them.