Many of us share the feeling that the election was decided by slogans. But how could it be otherwise? A famous judge once wrote that he thought his vote unimportant because the issues were too complex even for him to decide intelligently. Understanding the issues takes considerable effort, even if following what’s going on seems natural to many of us.
So there are really two possibilities. One is that most of us are attached to one or another world view and vote for candidates depending on who seems closer. And independents are people in between who are willing and able to follow in some detail and make intelligent choices. But much of the American public now treats the parties as a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. That means that they are unattached. How else can a large part of the electorate be reached except with slogans? There is simply too much that one needs to know. That’s unfortunate.
So think about this last election. You all know that I wanted much more support for the Obama Administration than the public showed. But what actually happened was the strength of democracy, rather than its weakness. Things were not going well. That much the people understood. The economic arguments are way beyond the knowledge base of most people to deal with. Even in the college educated portion of the public, few have studied economics and neither finance nor marketing are any substitute for studying macro-economics. And even for those who did, how many would have a basis to distinguish between the arguments of the Keynesians and the Chicago school? It certainly doesn’t get any easier in foreign policy.
But what people can do in a democracy is demand results. They did. And at the national level, people like me lost.
We will have even less ability to shape events over the next two years than we had in the last. Which means the next two years will be about slogans. What folks like us need is a party that makes its positions clear, not buried in compromised complexity, and dares the other to filibuster. In other words, Harry Reid better show some guts.
I’ve actually been trying to develop some brief rallying cries that accurately reflect the liberal side of the national debate. Here’s one:
Invest in America.
Invest in America because national decline doesn’t advance freedom.
Invest in America because investment makes the economy grow – everything else is iffy.
Invest in American infrastructure because clean food, clean air, clean water, clean elections and excellent schools make our lives richer, in resources, in health, in spirit and in business.
Invest in America, not in the illusion that people who are not investing in America now will come around if they only had more money.
Invest in America, not in the illusion that government merely stood by and watched the country grow – when we know that Washington, Hamilton and the men who founded and built this country used the power of government to build the resources that America needed – the canals, roads, railroads, schools and universities that became the backbone of American strength.
Invest in America; it’s the soundest investment you can make.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, November 30, 2010.