The second Republican debate has now been planned, and, since there are so many candidates, the first bit of fun is who gets to be on the big stage. Whoever makes that list is going to have to face a fact that has not been present in political discussions for a very long time. That fact is that the real issue in politics today is between a policy based on self-interest and a policy based on community interest.
Let us look at this as concretely as possible. We have millions of people who are living in poverty, and we have millions of people who get little or no medical care. We have millions, yes, millions of people with drug and alcohol addictions who are in desperate need of help, without which they present huge and expensive problems with crime and its punishment. We have millions of children who are in need of a far better education than they are getting, as a result of which they are going into the world without the training needed to live good and productive lives. We are facing huge problems with global warming, and if we do nothing about it we will jeopardize the lives and welfare of millions, perhaps billions of people.
In a nutshell, we have huge and unavoidable problems that need solving for the benefit of our community. There are, when you boil down all possible alternatives, only two. The first is to create programs to adequately address these huge problems, and to do that we must raise sufficient funds to pay for those programs. The second is to ignore the problems.
Stare at that last sentence. It is completely insane. Ignoring these world-threatening problems can only result in national and global disaster. Yet that is precisely the basic philosophy being presented by the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, not to mention the nut cases like Trump, Walker etc. How, you might wonder, could these folks possibly present a program of ignoring our most severe problems without being laughed, or more likely shouted, off the stage?
The answer is simple. They do it by misdirection. Like magicians who make you look one way while they are performing their sleight of hand in another, Republicans have, for decades now, succeeded. not in addressing these issues, but in avoiding them by creating pseudo-issues in their place. The list is rather lengthy, but a few examples suffice. Despite overwhelming, irrefutable and exhaustively detailed facts, Republican politicians are promoting debate about evolution. As dumbfounding as it is to think that someone could seriously argue the point, the real question is: what is a politician doing discussing evolution at all? Or consider the politician who announces that he will talk at length about his “faith” (by which he usually means some peculiar brand of Christianity). What, pray tell, does the man’s faith have to do with his ability to deal with our national and global problems? And don’t even get me started on the love of state fairs and little babies.
The reason why these discussions go on endlessly and meaninglessly is that it allows the politician to avoid discussing the real issues. They decry Obama because he (fill in the blank — “was born in Africa,”, “is a Muslim”, “goes on vacation”, whatever. Yet not once do they address solutions to global warming, to health care in America, to poverty, to education, to drug addiction. Why? Because if they do they are going to have to reveal that their one, abiding principle is self-interest, and that principle is very hard to sell to the average American. Solving our problems takes money and commitment to others, and raising money means taxing, and commitment to others means time and effort given in service. It is very hard to maintain a good suntan if you are helping out with the poor and the aged and the addicted. The one word the Republicans can never say in public is “sacrifice.”
Ah but now comes along a screwball with enough money to ignore all the niceties of the politics of avoidance. When he is asked what his faith is, he has the nerve to say, “What a dumb question. I’m here to talk political issues, not faith.” They try to attack him by saying that he can’t produce a favorite quote from the Bible, and he says, “What does that have to do with the price of eggs? Let’s talk about immigration and the Middle East and the real issues here.”
Not a nice moment for the politics of avoidance. Not just that, but a great moment for the American people. I put it to you that we all got sucked in for the past few decades with the possibility that, if we quietly acquiesced to the principle of self-interest, we might be one of the winners and get to have all our worldly wishes come true. We know better now, even those of us who did get a bigger piece of the pie. We want that real debate. We want to hear them talk about how to get medical care and how to solve drug addiction and how to educate all our children.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to be listening closely when the ten or the eleven or the seventeen show up for the debate. I suspect we might just begin to hear some real talk. I promise you, however, that I will be looking closely for the misdirection.