For the past five years, our nation has been distracted by those on the far right -- from the Tea Party activists to Republican politicians who have cowered in the face of primary challenges from their right. Their stonewalling on issues from Obamacare to gun control and immigration, along with the refusal to engage in reasonable compromise on even the most modest proposals has deepened and widened the partisan divide in our country.
Even though most Americans are moderate in their views, the extremes of the political spectrum get the most attention and, therefore, more clout. And let's be honest about this -- the far right has much more influence than the far left. The Tea Partiers and their ilk hold far greater sway over the Republican party than the far left does over the Democratic party. Even the Democrats derided as "socialists" by the right pursue much more moderate and flexible positions than the ideological right.
As a country, we have wasted too much time over the past five years fretting over the concerns of a small group of right-wingers. From health care to immigration to gun control, America should have long ago tackled these problems with common-sense, practical approaches, rather than getting mired down in ideological debates. Everyone from the business community to our international allies recognizes that this ideological bickering and the resulting national stalemate only harms America.
So what can we do about it? First and foremost, ignore the ideological drumbeat from the right. We've heard them out, considered their views and even incorporated some of those views into our national consensus. But we must also realize that ideologues will never be satisfied or tamed, and we should quit trying.
But what about the Republican party, which seems to be held captive to the far right? That is a more complex issue, since we need a responsible opposition party to craft a reasonable consensus. For the moment, that responsible opposition does not exist. Congress is deadlocked, and the hands of the president are largely tied in addressing national issues. To make matters worse, the midterm elections of 2014 don't promise any grand reshuffling, with the Republicans expected to maintain their majority in the House.
So are we destined, for at least several more years, to national policy deadlock? Probably, yes. However, there are some silver linings to this cloud. And they lie in the states. In my state of California, for example, we now have a Democratic governor and legislature that are moderate in their approach to social issues and responsible on fiscal matters. California is passing stricter gun control laws, promoting education reform, pro-actively implementing Obamacare, and taking measures not only to improve the lives of its citizens, but also to compete effectively in a global marketplace. In other words, California -- and states like it -- are moving ahead, despite the national policy gridlock.
Compare this with many of the "red" states, who are spending their time and resources fighting Obamacare, gun control, immigration reform, gay marriage and other issues that are near and dear to the hearts of the far right. Who would have imagined that state governors would be turning down money from the federal government to improve the health and welfare of their citizens? It demonstrates the triumph of ideology over common sense.
For a long time, those of us in the "blue" states have fretted over how to free our red-state brethren from the clutches of the far right. I know, those in the red states will argue that they are not in the clutches of anybody, but they are wrong. By far the majority of Republican elected officials in red states were put there by the fewer than 10 percent of the citizens who voted in the Republican primary. And those 10 percent are overwhelmingly to the far right of the spectrum.
We can no longer expend time and resources trying to bridge the red state/blue state gap. On a national level, it will happen naturally as the older, white Republican voters are outvoted by a younger, minority and more progressive electorate. But in the meantime, we as a nation should not be held captive by a red-state contingent who are themselves held captive by a tiny minority of their own voters.
One can expect the policies of the red-state politicians to backfire in the near future. Their stubborn positions on Obamacare are self-defeating, and eventually they will have to be bailed out by the federal government -- which means the rest of us in primarily blue states. We should be willing to help our fellow citizens if that is the price of preserving our nation. Certainly none of our disagreements are worth fighting another Civil War over. However, in a time when our greatest challenge is to pull together to compete in a global economy, we should not waste another minute trying to mollify the concerns of a reactionary, ideological few.
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