The ranks of America's politically homeless
are larger than at any time in 70 years. This is no accident. Nor is it sustainable.
It is no accident because both major parties currently are blind to common threads that could be used to knit together segments of society that for the time being are torn apart. It is not sustainable because broad and deep public disenchantment with both parties creates a vacuum and vacuums never last forever in democracies.
Today both the Democrats and Republicans are captive parties that cater to narrow interest groups. Neither is seen as working for the benefit of the whole country. Which is why it's been three-quarters of a century since so many people have refused to align with either major party.
At similar moments in our nation's past, transformational forces have risen up and challenged the major parties to either adapt or perish. Sometimes they've adapted as waves of reform washed over them. Other times unsustainable conditions led to major party realignment. Another such moment approaches.
There are common threads available to any politician or political party with a hankering for sewing. When the time comes – and it will come – that the risk of uniting finally outweighs the rewards of dividing, the sewing should start where the rips are most evident.
Someone or some party has to put forward a vision, and practical policies embodying that vision, of what for lack of a better term could be described as All for One Economics
. Today we have two economies. One for the powerful and privileged that works really well for them. And another for everyone else that leaves much to be desired. This too is no accident. It is the result of deliberate policy choices.
The Republicans gave us trickle down, and this reverse-Robin Hood philosophy has ruled over our economy for more than three decades. It hasn't worked. It hasn't made our economy more prosperous. It hasn't made us less vulnerable to globalization and the accompanying outsourcing and offshoring of American jobs. All it's done is further divide us, creating more pronounced class disparities and more intense concentration of wealth at the top. It hasn't filled everyone's cup.
The problem is that for over 30 years now the Democrats have failed to offer a compelling alternative. Democrats have served up their own version of oasis economics. A few are offered refuge from the desert –
and plenty to drink –
while most are left thirsty. This is why they've lost the support
of many of the poorest among us.
Moving toward one economy for the betterment of all could start with a decisive move away from corporate welfare. Trying to bribe big companies to create jobs here isn't working
now and has never worked. It just pads the profit margins of the companies and ends up subsidizing the movement of jobs overseas. What if we took the hundreds of millions of dollars
we are pouring down this rat hole every year here in Wisconsin and the billions wasted nationally and sunk it instead into micro-grants and loans to local entrepreneurs, small enterprises and community cooperatives?
Instead of giving handouts to multi-state or multi-national corporations (which not coincidentally make huge campaign contributions) in the empty hope that they might do something to help Neenah or Janesville or Wausau, what if every penny instead was directed to inventors and innovators living and raising their families right there in Neenah and Janesville and Wausau? They are rooted in those communities, and so are the people they will end up employing if their ventures can get off the ground.
All for One Economics also would require One for All Taxation. Face it, we now have two tax systems. One for those who make big campaign donations and can afford $250-an-hour lobbyists to work the corridors of power to get them write-offs and loopholes to jump through. And another for the rest of us. Many if not most in our society don't want new taxes, but broad agreement can be found on the idea that everyone should pay the ones we've already got.
Many if not most in our society want a limited government. Limited not only in how much it takes from our pocketbooks, but also limited in other respects. Government has no place in the bedroom and its role should be limited to nonexistent in the doctor's office or at the death bed. Common threads abound here that today's polarized politicians cannot see.
To have any hope of getting to common ground, one more thing is definitely needed: At least one political party that behaves in a way enabling it to plausibly make the case that it is nobody's tool. Today both major parties are tools of the powerful and privileged. Neither is seen as working for the benefit of our whole country, and that perception in squarely rooted in the reality that neither party is working in such a fashion. Many if not most in our society clearly don't want government to do too much. But what government does needs to be done for the benefit of all. There's another common thread right there.
The big question is which party will see the common threads and begin using them to knit us back together. The even bigger question is what transformational force will compel them to open their eyes.