Has anything changed after yesterday’s election? Probably not, but the current national malaise has come more into perspective.
Answers, as usual, are scarce on the ground, but one question continues to rear its head. Why is it so hard for us to talk to each other?
Of course, it was ever so. Take a swing back through American history and you’ll find it brimming over with political argument spiced by plain old partisan politics.
The Revolutionary period, however, does provide insight into how the country once overcame this divisiveness when a conservative giant insisted on doing the right thing.
Alexander Hamilton’s life reads like a novel - born illegitimately into modest circumstances in the West Indies. A merchant’s clerk, he was sent to New York to further his studies. There he became a street instigator against British rule, aide-de-camp to George Washington and after the war a very rich lawyer; he was blackmailed by a femme fatale, and eventually killed in a duel.
In his spare moments, as first Secretary of the US Treasury, he insisted that all loans made to the revolutionary movement should be honored by the federal government, this, at a time, when the country was financially destitute and weakened by rivalry between states.
There were universal howls of rage against Hamilton’s suggestion but through sheer force of personality, arm-twisting and favor pulling, he succeeded; the country never looked back and the dollar, despite many buffetings, has been the favorite international currency for almost a century.
What would Hamilton think of us today? Everyone is angry about deficits, although many only since the financial crisis or, dare I say it, the election of a Democratic administration.
And yet our deficits are intrinsically bipartisan and caused by a refusal to pay for social services, the prosecution of ongoing foreign wars, and a diminution of the tax base due to the economic downturn.
While there are cyclical and structural reasons for the latter, it would be hard to argue that the current recession was not accelerated by an unregulated financial industry that put profit before public trust.
With the introduction of the recent Finance Reform Bill, there is hope that the financial system of the country is now on a sounder footing. Company profits are high, credit is cheap, if US capitalism works in its normal cyclic manner, the economy should expand leading to a higher tax base and a reduction of the deficit, much as happened in the Clinton years.
That won’t really bring long term relief though if we keep bleeding the country’s wealth with unnecessary foreign wars. Leaving aside any moral issues, we are being held hostage by small, driven nationalist movements half way around the world similar to the way that our revolutionaries bled the British Empire.
It’s time to make whatever dignified departures possible from Iraq and Afghanistan and then really debate the reasons we’re still in Germany, Korea and Japan while those countries have thriving democratic societies and economies.
The real deficit inducer, however, is that we refuse to pay for our social services. In fact, we can’t even have a meaningful discussion about their funding. Apart from a couple of wealthy libertarians and some Yuppies who have yet to feel the cold finger of ill-health, no one I know wants to privatize social security and most people are just dying to get to sixty-five and Medicare so that they can be somewhat shielded from a rapacious health insurance industry.
In fact, everyone I’ve lobbied would gladly sacrifice a couple of bucks extra a week in taxes to ensure that they have a meaningful safety net in their golden years.
So why do we allow blow-dried politicians and smarmy lobbyists to impose their will on us by muddying the debate?
Well we don’t vote in sufficient numbers. We get our news from television sound-bite messiahs who deal in fiction rather than fact. And we’d sooner howl to the heavens rather than grapple with thorny and weighty matters.
One way or another, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of solving any of the above issues until we can engage in sane, substantive and non-partisan discussions.
“Where have you gone, Mister Hamilton, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”