Contemporary politicians tend to treat their electorate as mediocre people who they just can't have an intelligent conversation with. Sounding intelligent, poised and specific has more or less become a recipe for losing the political game. That's the reason U.S. ended up with a cowboy in the president's office followed by a largely unproven and inexperienced but brilliant and likeable orator.
Fall-out of this trend is in front of us in this election. We have had numerous townhall style campaign events, rallies, interviews, focused one on ones with the media and just concluded second debate. Once you take the noise, negativity and rhetoric out of all that has been said, you realize how hollow both the candidates and parties are in terms ideas and solutions. Talking about character is an altogether different thing because distortion of facts and telling blatant lies has now become an acceptable form of political campaigning. So lets come back to the ideas and solutions.
Both the parties seem to have overly simplistic and often intellectually bereft ideas to tackle any and every issue. Let us look at the key issues:
Economy and Jobs -- Democrats believe making households earning more than $250,000 a year pay more in taxes is the way to go while Republicans seem to think tax cut is the panacea to all problems. No one seems to be bothered about the structural imbalances that have built in the system over the years and how to correct those imbalances. I would like to hear discussion around growing "lack of mobility." Ability to pack up and move for career progression or during times of hardships to make a living used to be one of America's greatest strengths. Notre Dame economist Abigail Wozniak with two colleagues at the Fed reviewed 30 years of data and found lifetime migration rates have been trending down since 1980. What are the causes and ideas to arrest this trend has not even been discussed once. There has been a lot of rhetoric around outsourcing but have we heard our politicians have a serious conversation on why outsourcing takes place -- in an increasingly global workplace, you cannot outlaw outsourcing but work hard to restore the lost competitiveness or up-skill workers for the next wave of high skill jobs. Have any of the two candidates put forward a plan that talks about restoring competitiveness? Idea that you can somehow bring the lost jobs back or stop more jobs going away simply by giving companies a tax break to hire locally is intellectually bankrupt. Similarly just lowering of the taxes is not going to suddenly unleash a wave of investment unless efforts are made to improve competitiveness.
Health care -- Democrats believe Obamacare is the solution while Republicans believe repeal of Obamacare and continuing with the status quo is good enough. The entire political conversation is around who picks up the tab for health care and not around why health care is so obnoxiously expensive here not just compared to the developing world but even other developed nations. A McKinsey study brought out the fact that U.S. spends twice as much on health care as on food, and more than Chinese consumers spend on all goods and services. Here is why: When my wife was pregnant, we had a schedule of scans to do. On one of those dates, we were traveling and had to get a scan done in India (my home country). The same scan that cost us $1,750 in the U.S. cost us $35 in India after adjusting for purchasing power parity. A McKinsey study referred to above, published on Nov. 8 on the U.S. health care system, concluded, "of the $2.1 trillion the United States spends on health care, nearly $650 billion is above what we would expect for the level of US wealth". Both the parties seem largely disinterested in talking about how to get rid of this waste. Once in a while you hear small bits on eliminating Medicare fraud, tort reforms, making healthcare providers more efficient but those are rarely the centerpiece of discussions often lose out to the philosophical rhetoric over who pays for this waste.
Gun Control -- This is one issue where both parties seem to be happy playing to the gun lobby and refuse to debate. How many more tragedies the country needs to see before anything happens is anyone's guess. A sensible policy would ban the sale of all assault weapons, mandate a thorough background check nationwide for any gun or gun related parts/equipment sale. Such a background check need not be just conducted at the time of sale but must be renewed periodically just like we do for our drivers licenses. Would we ever get a sensible debate on the issue, my guess is not until money continues to play the role it currently plays in elections.
Regulation -- Democrats think vaguely written half-baked confusing regulation is still better than no regulation while Republicans think any and every regulation defeats the free market ideology. Romney made a good point on how as a businessmen he wants smart and effective regulations to be in place but when you talk specific, the answer is always a blanket repeal of Dodd-Frank and elimination of EPA. Is Dodd Frank perfect -- no its far from perfect. Is EPA becoming to obstructionist and confrontational in its approach -- yes but it still works to protect us from excessive damage to environment. But do both needs to be scrapped, absolutely not. No party seems to understand complex and vaguely written regulations impose a cost on businesses and create an undue advantage for the large corporations. Large corporation can afford to hire smartest of lawyers and accountants to benefit from loopholes while small businesses end up folding up. Consumers eventually pick up the tab in higher costs. Have we heard specifics on how we can smartly regulate the financial services sector to eliminate excesses or how can we ensure we regulate all existing and emerging energy sources such that interests of the economy, producers and consumers are protected without causing damage to environment.
One can similarly take up other issues and realize the entire debate is bereft of specifics and full of rhetoric. This does not serve us well. We need to move away from our ideological affiliation to the two parties and rise up to the challenge of asking candidates for specifics. If we do not get the specifics, then we ought not to vote for any of the candidates and have a right to cast our vote to 'none of them.' In the current election, if voters had a choice to vote for none of the candidates on the ballot, I reckon we would end up with an inconclusive election. That would force both the parties to stop playing to their base and genuinely make an effort to tackle issues of the day.