Reactive Failures

James Sasso, Associate Editor

In a recent New York Times article  (published in the weekly New York Times magazine on November 12th), conservative David Frum expounds on the challenges facing Republicans in their new challenge of leading the country forward out of its currently troubled state. The main roadblock to their success: themselves. “Too often, conservatives dupe themselves,” he says in reference to how many have dealt with questioning about the source of America’s current economic crisis. While Frum’s article is specific in his criticism of Republican’s closed-minded, impulsive response to the Democratic legislation, his deeper warning about emotionally charged, “closed-system” politics should be learned by politicians across the country.

Ha! How could you ever be right?

In the Midterm elections Democrats were trounced largely due to a combination of a horrendous economic situation and the Republican propaganda-like campaign where they attacked Democrats (mostly President Obama) for failed policies that they claimed only would worsen the current economic climate. The problem, whether or not the Democrats’ efforts to stave off an economic depression worked, however, is that Republicans were in the same situation two years ago when Obama and the Democrats swept into office riding a wave of anti-Republican sentiment about the dismal economy. When asked about the cause of the collapse, one which economists largely agree lies in the hands of a combination of Bush decisions, such as the wars and tax cuts, Republicans tend to retreat from the answer instead of accepting responsibility and offering alternative solutions because:

It’s an uncomfortable memory, and until now Republicans have coped with it by changing the subject and hurling accusations. Those are not good enough responses from a party again entrusted with legislative power. If Republicans are to act effectively and responsibly, we need to learn more positive and productive lessons from the crisis.

Frum uses the rest of the article to provide four economic “lessons” that he believes, and rightfully so, Republicans in office should learn. These lessons, while economic at face value, express two more psychological messages that could very well allow Washington to function: patience and open-mindedness. Patience means, in this sense, the ability not to use office as a reactionary post, but rather a place where one takes an issue and considers it intelligently before coming to a conclusion. Open-mindedness means exactly as it sounds; that Republicans (and I believe all politicians) need to pay heed to the legislative ideas of the opposing party.

While Frum never explicitly mentions reactionary politics in his op-ed piece, one can assume the warning in his discussion of economic policies. For example Frum mentions TARP and its public perception. TARP was a Republican policy under George Bush, but under President Obama the “bank bailouts” have become a rallying cry for conservatives. As such,

Republican officeholders who want to explain why they acted to prevent the collapse of the U.S. banking system can get no hearing from voters seized with certainty that a bank collapse would have done no harm to ordinary people.

Republicans, however, who denounce TARP and any other sort of “government meddling” found themselves in a very electable scenario during this mid-term. This is what Frum would call “reactionary” politics because instead of focusing on the intelligence behind a piece of legislation, or the long-term effects of such legislation, the elected officials only care about the immediate emotions of the electorate. This kind of governance leads not to effective policy solutions (generally, there are exceptions) but instead to emotionally driven, short term remedies, which only serve to pacify the populace in the short term but to fail to cure the problem in the long run. It would be almost as if one took Robitussin to  try and cure pneumonia; sure the cough will be gone, but the disease will continue to eat away at the body.

Because we know that Obama is the Joker....

Politicians should instead (and this was their original purpose) look beyond the “fads” of majority thought and use educated responses to serve long term problems. In other words, the new Republican officials who rose to power on the wave of anti-democratic sentiment will find a similar fate awaiting them in 2012 if they do not take REAL steps to fix the economy instead of only short term measures to patch the cuts. Their reactionary calls to repeal Healthcare and permanently extend the Bust Tax Cuts while somehow continuing to pay for rising Medicare costs make ZERO sense. These cannot happen in tandem in America’s current economic state. Republicans cannot satisfy themselves by mollifying the public by acting on their waves of anti-government sentiment. They need to sit down, think and decide in which way they can best stimulate the economy, regardless of how it will make the citizenry feel. This is the role of a true politician. One would be brave enough to earn a spot in JFK’s Profiles of Courage by standing up to the electorate and making policy decisions based on what he saw as best for the country as a whole. These decisions do not arise out of emotional responses but intelligent thought processes. Be patient, Republicans. The country needs it.

In tandem with patience comes open-mindedness. Frum, when discussing Republicans’ refusal to admit blame for the economic crisis, states that Republicans, “wrap themselves in closed information systems based upon pretend information.” That is, the Republicans refused to acknowledge that their system of thought, their  political-economic belief structure could be wrong. In some way they were right because it was not their policy decisions that had caused the economic downturn but some outside forces.

This kind of thinking is extraordinarily dangerous for a politician (and not limited to Republicans). A politician needs to understand that he does not hold all of the answers, that he cannot solve the nation’s problems on his own. If he does not hold all of the answers this necessarily means that he is not always right and therefore has the ability to listen to others and LEARN. A politician, who is meant to look out for the well-being of his constituency, should look towards others for the solution to an issue if he does not have it and since it is nearly impossible for one person to have THE SOLUTION to a certain issue, politicians should constantly look towards others when making policy decisions.

This would represent open-mindedness. Frum means that politicians should not ignore the beliefs of the other party simply because they are of the other party. Democrats and Republicans can learn from each other. Both have valid ideas. If Republicans, however, waltz into Washington with an air of arrogance, with an air of superiority (as some might say the Democrats did in 2008) they will find a hostile world where it is nearly impossible to make functional policy decisions. Government should not be partisan; it should not be a debate between diametrically opposed ideas. Instead it should be a discussion where each participant brings different thoughts, but where each thought is welcomed and conversed. This allows the sides to both display the intelligent aspects of their beliefs and to combine them into a more coherent and useful policy. One cannot achieve comprehensive policies with a closed mind.

And unfortunately it is precisely the closed-minded, reactionary politics of the Midterm Election that drove Generation Y away from the polls. In the two years following 2008, Generation Y watched perhaps the worst two years of partisan fighting, useless bickering and closed-minded politics in the history of America. Politicians did not try to govern but instead to embarrass the other side and please the emotionally charged populace. There was no discussion in politics, only finger pointing which never leads to any real progress. Generation Y is a progress oriented generation. Why should they bother to vote for a government that makes no progress?

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