We Can All Do Better
My way, your way or the not-so-Third Way
By Steven Martinovich
"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun," wrote the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and when it comes to American politics it certainly holds true. Almost from the moment the idea of separation of England was proposed did various factions – later becoming political parties – spring up. The nostalgia of history says that the early days of the Republic were one of Socratic debates and honourable election campaigns while the newspapers of the day show otherwise. Bitter, divisive, deadlocking partisan politics is as American as the Liberty Bell.
That doesn't stop someone from periodically arguing the need for a new kind of politics, one freed from partisanship where everyone can come together in unity and an honest attempt to solve the nation's problems. Former New Jersey Democratic senator Bill Bradley has become the latest with his seventh non-fiction effort We Can All Do Better, ostensibly a demand to the American people and their representatives to move past partisanship to confront the very real issues that threaten the United States. The threats that Bradley identifies are, for the most part, correct but anyone who didn't vote for Barack Obama in 2008 might take issue with Bradley's version of a non-ideological approach to solving them.
Bradley offers a litany of familiar problems Americans are currently facing; a military backed and thereby expensive foreign policy, jobs, poverty, the environment and money in politics, among others. He charges that both the left and right are guilty of using these issues as props as campaign issues with their proposed solutions merely partisan rhetoric. The noise they generate is such that the average well-meaning American is unable to push commonsense ideas into the public debate with the inevitable result of societal and legislative deadlock. Instead of town halls like Norman Rockwell would have painted the evening news reports of Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street rallies.
We Can All Do Better wants to sell itself as a post-partisan call for unity and broad-based solutions but it is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Much like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair's "Third Way" was predicated upon appearing centrist but governing to the left; Bradley's manifesto wants you to believe he wants everyone's opinion considered on the march to a solution to a problem. In reality, We Can All Do Better is replete with examples of Bradley taking cheap shots at the right while arguing a liberal agenda. One fine example of this was Bradley's assertion that Republicans link tax cuts for the wealthy with job creation so they can essentially pretend to care about the middle class. Another was his claim that the Tea Party movement was an angry blockading fringe movement while Occupy was a noble group that only lacked a firm agenda.
It would be tempting to describe We Can All Do Better as a missed opportunity but in reality Bill Bradley was never a philosopher king who was unconcerned with petty politics. While he was generally a centrist on spending cuts and a more rational tax code, he was also reliably liberal on issues like campaign finance reform, gun control and health care. Remarkably, during his aborted presidential bid in 2000 he ran to the left of Al Gore and earned an endorsement from the late Paul Wellstone (though admittedly one also from Paul Volcker).
One can probably also take issue with his implicit argument that the partisan are less interested in solving issues. For whatever sins those on the left and right bring, it is arguable that both believe their prescriptions are correct. And as any student of history can tell you, the American system was designed for deadlock – with resolution coming only after lengthy, and sometimes divisive, debate. Americans should be trusted to be able to sort through the competing proposals and solve their nation's problems. They did it in creating their nation, fighting a civil war, grappling with the denied rights of minorities and now have another chance to be their best. If not? Let's not forget that the Book of Ecclesiastes also states, "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever."
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.
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