America’s biggest problem: itself

By Matt Watson

In an unsurprising act, Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to meet its Nov. 21 deadline for drafting a plan to shave more than $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit in the next decade. The committee had months of time to deliberate and the specter of more than $1 trillion in random cuts to defense and non-defense spending hanging over its head as motivation. These politicians had the opportunity to save the nation from a debt crisis like the one the eurozone is currently facing. And yet, it was destined to fail from the start: Few pundits or experts had any hope that six Democrat and six Republican lawmakers could agree on the color of the committee’s memo pads, let alone the serious and complex issue at hand.

There are plenty of reasons for this sad and embarrassing failure. Our politics have become more divisive and poisonous; compromise is seen as weakness; and blind orthodoxy is praised with mounds of campaign cash and endorsements. After the Citizens United ruling, which counts corporations as people and allows them to donate unlimited amounts of campaign funds, politicians in America are officially for sale. And, of course, the 24-hour news cycles of viciously partisan MSNBC and FOX News fan the flames of a political scene that has turned into all-out war. There are numerous other reasons, but all of them sit on the surface of the problem. The real issue lies much deeper—in the very fabric of our democracy.

What makes our nation great is also its biggest weakness: the will of the people. Now, I’m not saying that our right to vote and choose our elected officials isn’t the ultimate form of freedom. But problems arise when we don’t actually know what we want or what the hell we’re talking about. Many members of the Tea Party movement say they joined because they saw that government wasn’t governing according to the will of the people. What they really meant was the government wasn’t doing exactly what they wanted. After all the backlash, few can now remember that health care reform was a big issue that had broad support in the 2008 campaign. But conservative pundits who decried death panels and the overarching theme of “government-controlled health care” instilled enough fear in voters to produce a negative response to something as altruistic as universal health care. Democrats did the right thing and pushed through anyway, and were shown the door on Election Day on Nov. 2, 2010.

Now, with a divided Congress, nothing important enough to be called “reform” has a chance of passing, and that includes debt or tax reform. So many voters think “Thou shalt not raise taxes” was written on the 10 Commandments that the Republican Party has officially refused to consider it as a solution. That is despite all economic reality that says we cannot simply trim ourselves out of this pile of debt, especially in such harsh economic times. It’s also in the face of the moral reality that cuts to government programs mean pain for middle- and lower-income citizens, yet spare the wealthiest who are scarcely affected by the recession. Shouldn’t they share in the sacrifice? Oh wait, saying that incites class warfare.

Ultimately, this is our own fault. We can blame politicians all day, but we choose them. That’s not to say that the persistent anti-incumbent fervor that was seen in 2010 is a good thing; the idiots that the Tea Party voted into office appear worse than the ones they voted out. The lack of critical thinking the American public shows when considering whom to vote for is frightening. I had my reasons for voting for Obama, but too many of my peers did it to be trendy, and that’s wrong. That’s no better than the people who got caught up in the Tea Party storm one year later, being fooled by catchy phrases about “no taxes.” It’s a popular punch line, but in reality, things are much more complicated.

We can’t expect everyone in America to be a political science major who understand intricate policy points; but the current state of politics in this nation needs to change. We’re far too captivated by sensationalism and too easily turned off by intellectualism. Electing “average Joes” into office is exactly why nothing can get done. We don’t need “average” people in charge; we need exceptionally intelligent people. Otherwise, the mounting number of problems our nation faces as we move into the 21st century will be put in the hands of idiots—and we’ll only see more failure on any sort of much-needed reform.