Different Worldviews

The party’s conventions are over, and if there is one thing they showed us, it’s that Democrats and Republicans live in very different realities (as the President noted in his speech, Democrats understand that climate change is not a hoax) and have starkly different approaches to the age-old question: how should we live together?

From the composition of the crowds to the policies offered by the speakers, Americans saw two very different messages. It wasn’t simply that–as the President memorably noted–the GOP’s prescription for everything and anything that ails us is “Take two tax cuts and call me in the morning.” It was the difference between a longing for the past–for an America that only existed, if it existed at all, for a small group of middle-class white guys–and a determination to build a fairer, more inclusive, more stable future.

That difference in focus goes a long way toward explaining why the GOP has so much more party discipline than the Democrats do. When you are focused on defeating the other guys because you believe that will magically reinstate a time when women knew their place, gays were hiding in the closet where they belonged, immigrants picked the crops and then went home (or at least stayed out of sight), and black people did not occupy statehouses and most definitely did not live in the White House, the goal is clear and cohesion around that goal relatively easy.

When you are trying to cope with real problems, trying to come to agreement about the future you are trying to build, rather than focusing solely on the man and party you are trying to defeat, the conversation is different. There are many more areas of disagreement–where, precisely, do we want to go? What are the policies most likely to get us there?

Despite the Tea Party’s insistence that Obama is a socialist, what was striking about the rhetoric coming from the Democratic convention was its full-throated endorsement of market economics, of the meritocratic vision that used to be a Republican vision before the party was captured by its anti-rationalist extreme. That affirmation of an economics that rewards hard work and innovation differed from the  exaltation of wealth we saw at the Republican convention, however, because it was situated in a larger concept of citizenship and mutual obligation.

The President said it clearly.  “We also believe in something called citizenship – a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

In November, we’ll see which worldview American voters endorse.


I Couldn’t Have Said It Better

Every so often, someone will come across my first book–“What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?”–and will express surprise that I was once a Republican. That happened the other day, and I tried to explain how different the party I belonged to for so long–35 years!–was from the party they see today.

Strange as it may seem today, I was considered “too conservative” for a significant number of Republicans in 1980, when I was their local candidate for Congress; many of them actually defected and voted for my more “mainstream” opponent, Andy Jacobs, Jr. My political philosophy hasn’t changed, but the GOP certainly has; the result is that the positions I held–and hold–that were once labeled conservative now are considered left-wing. I stood still; the party careened “right” past me.

I don’t think people with whom I have that conversation really believe me when I explain how dramatic the shift has been over the last 30 years. But a forthcoming book makes the case more eloquently than I have been able to do.

The book is “It’s Even Worse than it Looks,” and it was written by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute. Back when I was a Republican, Ornstein was an important intellectual force in the party, and was considered a member of the GOP’s right wing. In the book, Mann and Ornstein write

“One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier–ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

A number of my friends have marveled at how weak the field of GOP Presidential contenders is, but when a political party has become an angry, unthinking mob, when the base that candidates must satisfy prefers red meat to reason, potential candidates have a distasteful choice. They can wait for a less fevered, less rabid environment, or they can do what Romney, Gingrich, et al have chosen to do: reject evolution and science, extol fundamentalist religion and “family values,” attack gays and immigrants, and use barely coded “dog whistles” to play the race card. (One of the most dispiriting elements of this campaign season has been watching Dick Lugar–once a reasonable, dignified elder-statesman–grovel for the votes of these rabid know-nothings by trying to become someone other than the Dick Lugar who once commanded bipartisan respect.)

The real tragedy in the transformation of what used to be the Grand Old Party is that America desperately needs two competitive parties controlled by rational political actors. We voters need to hear different perspectives on policy issues, thoughtfully argued–not name-calling and demonization. Worse still, the absence of a worthy adversary encourages similarly juvenile antics by the Democrats. It makes a circus of the whole political process.

I miss my old party–and America is poorer for its absence.


Raining on Indianapolis’ Parade

I don’t care for sports–especially football–and I wasn’t all that thrilled when Indianapolis won the right to host the Super Bowl. But you would have to be even more testosterone-challenged than I am not to recognize the benefits to our City that come with the selection: the local infrastructure improvements, the civic spirit, the amount of money that will flow into the local economy, and most of all, the increased visibility.

One way or another, I’ve worked with civic organizations and/or local government my entire adult life. I still remember being part of a Hudnut Administration focused on creating Indianapolis from “India-no-place” and making it–in his words–“no mean city.”

The Super Bowl is an opportunity to show a billion people that we deserve urban respect. Hundreds of volunteers have been working hard for two years  to make the most of that opportunity.

Do the Governor and General Assembly care? Obviously not. They are willing to use their pissing match over “Right to Work” to give Indianapolis a black eye and diminish the value of hosting a world-class event.

The Republicans picked this fight, but the incredibly inept Democrats aren’t blameless.

Make no mistake: this battle isn’t about workers, or their rights. It’s all about politics and money; unions (even the pathetically weakened variety we have in Indiana) tend to support Democrats, so the Republicans want to weaken them while they have the votes to do so. The Democrats want to protect them for the same reason. And neither side appears to give a rat’s you-know-what about the consequences of raining on our city’s Super Bowl parade. Neither gives any evidence of concern that Indianapolis will once again be viewed as a minor-league city–a place with some nice sports facilities but hayseed politicians unable to see beyond their own narrow self-interest, unable to put Indianapolis’ long-term interests ahead of their own short-term political gratification.

When will we start electing grown-ups to govern us?