In 2003 I stood in the doorway of a motel in South Carolina with U.S. Senator Bob Graham while he was running for president and listened to a middle aged woman tell him that someone had to fix the two-tiered system she saw developing in the United States. She did not profess great Democratic or Republican loyalties, but she was worried that America was becoming a nation with one set of rules for the wealthy and the connected and another set for everyone else. Recounting stories that made her point, she refused to let him pass until he committed to leveling the playing field for regular people like her and her neighbors if he got elected. Senator Graham never became president, but the look of yearning in that woman's eyes has stayed with me ever since.
This week the Republican members of the United States Senate have decided to ignore the concerns of the millions of Americans like that woman who share her concern that those at the top are passing around the remaining goodies and protecting each other from the consequences of their actions while the rest of America takes it on the chin. Instead of offering amendments and working with Democrats to create a tough Wall Street reform bill, GOP Senators voted as a bloc on Monday to stop the bill from going to the floor of the Senate for debate. After voting against the stimulus package created to get the economy moving again and health care reform, opposing Wall Street reform confirms the Grand Old Party is against the side of progress and constructive resolution of our national problems in favor of playing political games intended to benefit their own political interests.
Americans have lost much confidence in the leadership of our nation and the tone-deaf actions of those on Wall Street and their Republican protectors have not helped. Working people in the United States are still facing near 10% unemployment (15% for African Americans) and according to RealtyTrac nearly one million homes face foreclosure this year while Wall Street bankers pass out billions of dollars in fat bonuses to each other following the near-economic debacle they were complicit in creating.
Americans are right to wonder are we all really in this together?
A recent poll by the Pew Center reveals that only 22% of Americans say they can trust government all or most of the time and only 25% of Americans have a favorable view of Congress. Similarly banks and large corporations are viewed negatively by over 60% of the public and only 31% of Americans view the media as having a positive effect on the way things are going. We have a crisis in leadership just at the time we need a national will to maintain our competitiveness.
Either the Republicans just don't understand that passing real and tough reforms on Wall Street is the first step to restoring the trust between America's leaders and the families who are on the receiving end of the economic ladder or worse: they are playing a cynical form of politics that exacerbates the distrust for their own short term political benefit. That crass political strategy risks the nation's ability to prepare itself for the future by addressing the real long term problems we face.
Our country borrows too much money from our global competitors to fund our governmental expenses. At some point we will have to find a way to raise more money to pay for national defense, entitlements and other priorities, cut back on those things or probably do both. Either way we cannot afford to keep running up the credit card with China, Saudi Arabia and Japan at this rate. That is why President Obama appointed a bi-partisan debt commission to provide cover for progressives and conservatives to do things that they will not like.
Our manufacturing base is disappearing as technology and cheap labor in far off lands take away American jobs and the economic base of our industrial cities. Americans need to invest in green energy that will create new jobs and small businesses here at home. Then we must train our workers in the skills needed to serve them. That means we must stop making cuts in education when our schools are already not doing enough for our young people. Budgets are tight, but cannibalizing our children's future is not the way to balance them.
The United States needs a Republican Party that is trying to fix this nation. The problems we face are too daunting and will require a generational effort to unravel. That means one party or ideology, no matter how much one agrees with it can credibly solve these problems alone. Instead we need conservatives to offer ideas along with progressives that lead to consensus solutions that will last from one Administration to the next with only a few adjustments made to meet the ideological leanings of any new president or majority.
By standing in the way of Wall Street reform, health care, alternative energy policy and anything else the Democratic president and majority proposes without trying to make the proposals better, Republicans are shirking their responsibility to that woman in South Carolina and the nation when we need them most. Their voters deserve to have a seat at the table and their ideas deserve to be a part of the process. Instead we have stonewalling and obstinacy that reminds me more of a child pouting because he doesn't get to be the quarterback in a Pop Warner football game than a mature political party devoted to our nation's success.
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