Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What's Wrong with our Politics, Part One

In 1980 candidate Ronald Reagan asked the famous question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago." Using this approach, he beat an incumbent president in a landslide.

What is wrong with this question? Well, several things. First, it assumes that our voting decisions are made solely on the basis of our own personal sense of well-being, rather than on what is good for the country as a whole. Surely there are many voters who are more principled than that, at least one would hope so.

But the real problem with this approach is that we are being asked to vote on how well we perceive things to be at the present moment, with no thought to what the longer term consequences are to a given approach. It used to be, I think, that people planned for the future, thought in terms of future goals. Thus, immigrants came to this country, and the parents worked hard, often working 2 or 3 jobs to support their families, but they were willing to do this because they saw a better future for their kids and grandkids.

But how do we make decisions now? Too many of us just "vote the bastards out" if we perceive that the economy is weak. We make decisions based on the "right now" situation, rather than on what is best for the long-term welfare of our families and our country.

A good example of this is Ronald Reagan himself. During his administration, the U.S. borrowed heavily against the future, spending money it didn't have, which meant passing on a huge debt to our descendants. This sort of approach may make people feel good in the short term, but it is no way to safeguard the long-term health of our country.

Another problem with Reagan's question is that it ignores the importance of foreign policy. We cannot vote solely on economic issues; we need to take into account the question of which candidate has the judgment and temperament required to make the critical foreign policy decisions which every president has to make.

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