Putting Politics Before People

By labeling President Obama’s efforts to increase access to healthcare for the uninsured as “socialist,” the Republican Party has made the case that we have no collective obligation to the least well off among us.

Since the founding of our Republic, two philosophies have guided our politics. One consists of an informed confidence in the power of the collective, built upon a fundamental belief that the words “we the people” must lead to more than the mere personal gratifications of the individual. The other is deeply skeptical of the federal government, resting on the notion that the government is too bound to bureaucracy to be efficient and too corrupt to be effective. For generations of Americans, the great debate between these philosophies has strengthened our democracy and deepened our resolve to form a more perfect union.

“However, the fierce competition between opposing views of government may now be degenerating into something toxic,” says David A. Moss of the Harvard Business School. “Policy making in America is approaching all-out war, where victory is paramount, ‘compromise’ is a dirty word, and virtually any issue or development can become a weapon for bludgeoning the other side,” he continues.

In a recent presentation at the Brookings Institution to highlight his newest book, “Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent,” Georgetown University professor E.J. Dionne said, “…the way we will avoid decline is to refresh our traditional balance…between our love of individualism and our deep affection for and quest for community.” Dionne argues that, “We have emphasized individual liberty to the exclusion of our dedication to community.” Reflecting on the Founders’ dedication to the principle of “we the people,” he says, “You and I must come to the defense of each other’s liberty in order to preserve it, and so this is necessarily a communal project we are engaged in. And if you actually care about liberty, you’ve got to care about the wellbeing of the community.”

Pundits and historians will frame the outcome of this election in many ways, and most will probably argue, whatever the result, that the state of the economy on November 6th determined the winner. We need to remember, however, that as much as Mitt Romney and the Republican Party try to blame President Obama for the slow pace of our economic recovery, their systematic effort to unfairly tip the scales of our democratic discourse towards the Ayn Rand philosophy of individualism has led, as much as any other factor, to our dismal economy.

By labeling President Obama’s efforts to increase access to healthcare for the uninsured as “socialist,” the Republican Party has made the case that we have no collective obligation to the least well off among us. By setting a record for the use of the filibuster, Republicans in the Senate have objected to every piece of legislation that offends their dogma. The Republican majority in the lower chamber has done the same-even at the dire risk of driving the global economy into crisis. And when asked if they would support $1 of tax increases for every $10 cut from the deficit, every Republican candidate for president signaled that they would reject such a deal.

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have consistently pushed for progressive tax reform that asks slightly more of the wealthiest in our society, and they have passed legislation to hold the financial institutions on Wall Street that helped cause the recession accountable. All the while, they have been open to discussing reasonable and responsible ways to strengthen entitlement programs. The Republican Party, however, has determined, in the words of Senator Mitch McConnell, that, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term President.”

While volumes can be written about how, why, and when such loyalty to party before country became the norm in Republican politics, we Democrats have a responsibility to stand firm upon our core principles and to energetically articulate our belief in the government’s ability to protect and expand the common good.

And finally, no matter our political allegiances, as people of faith, we have received clear direction in this matter: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

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