I grew up in a thoroughly Republican household.
My grandfather was a Swedish immigrant who felt that if he could make his way in this country as a young kid who spoke no English and somehow got himself an engineering degree, anyone could do it. A bootstrapper, he attended Cooper Union for free thanks to the largesse of founder Peter Cooper. “Noblesse oblige” was apparently fine with him but not “social welfare” - he loathed FDR and dismissed his programs as hand-outs. Still, he always voted and was incredibly loyal to this country.
My parents were also Republicans. I can remember seeing “I Like Ike” buttons around the house. And my father, a former Marine, was known to stand and salute whenever Reagan came on the air.
While I didn’t share my father’s adulation of Reagan — I disagreed with his treatment of the air traffic controllers and Iran-Contra was a disaster in my opinion — I’m not a Democrat. This may be as much because I’m an artist and, paraphrasing Groucho, don’t want to belong to any party that’d have me as a member. But it’s also because I think both parties have interesting candidates and valuable ideas and I want to be able to pick and choose.
And yes, I’m a nightmare in a restaurant, wanting one from Column A, but can I also have the sides from Column B and the dessert from Column C?
But really, shouldn’t the best people and the best ideas win?
I’ve been addicted to “Borgen” these last couple of weeks. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a Danish television series about a woman who’s elected prime minister. That is to say, her party has enough seats and is able to persuade enough other parties to contribute to her party’s platform that they all agree that she should be Prime Minister.
Now this is obviously a parliamentary government as opposed to what we have here — the legislature and the executive chosen independently and ideally checking each other’s power. But what intrigues me about the process in Denmark and other parliamentary countries is that while yes, there’s horse trading and power mongering — it’s politics after all — it’s also very much about ideas. Because each party — and there are half a dozen parties weighing in on “Borgen” — each party has its own ideas. And they fight to have their ideas included in any proposals that emerge.
And yes, you could argue that there are factions within each of our two major parties and that these factions compete during the primary season to make their ideas heard. But once the primary season is over, the chosen candidates campaign on their own platforms and the winner chooses her or his own cabinet.
And somehow the competing ideas seem to get lost.
So much so that it could be argued that once the election is over, the only thing that seems to matter is power.
Which is not to say that no one has ideas. I’m very happy that Joe Biden has publicly committed to making the pandemic job one. Thanks to Biden, there are now plenty of opportunities to be vaccinated with about a quarter of the population now fully vaccinated in Connecticut and more doses in the pipeline. And there is clarity about masking and social distancing and hygiene.
But the other side, instead of embracing the return of competency, is nursing its wounds and pitching sand in the gears. They are encouraging people not to wear masks and taking any politician who has put a mask mandate in place to court. Why? It’s so unproductive. Say you prevail in court and mask mandates are struck down. Then what — more people get sick and die? How is this a good thing?
I keep thinking that if we had more parties involved and more ideas in play, we wouldn’t find ourselves in this constant power struggle, with one side saying “A” and the other side insisting “Not A!” How about one side says “A” and the other side says… wait for it… “K?” Wouldn’t that be novel.
Then there are the politicians who seize the opportunity to leverage their deciding vote. Looking at you, Joe Manchin. In vote after vote, Joe lingers on the sidelines waiting for his backside to be licked before he’ll saunter down and weigh in. And it’s not just Democrats who’re playing that card – there are certainly plenty of Republicans who love the limelight. Hello, Lindsey Graham.
Frankly I think we’d all be better served if legislators had term limits and stricter rules governing how soon they could bail out of government and go make millions as a lobbyist. I also think that we need to limit campaign spending, which would enable new and more diverse voices to participate and prevent some of the corruption and influence that is an inevitable side effect of uncontrolled campaign spending.
And I can hear you already — it’s hopeless! It’ll never change! Hate to tell you, it’s already changed — January 6th proved that. Aggrieved members of the losing party tried to violently seize control the Capitol building. So the gauntlet has been thrown down.
And the actions taken since then in lots of states make their position clear. They wish to regain power, which is their right. But they are unabashedly trying to do this by making it harder for working people to vote.
I don’t like this idea. A democracy depends on every citizen having the right to weigh in by voting. Disenfranchising voters and throwing obstacles in their way is dirty pool in my book.
And it’s disloyal to the country.
So how about instead of taking up arms and obstructing voters, the party out of power tries to persuade voters to support them by offering ideas the voters will like?
Our infrastructure is a mess. Our schools need upgrading. Our grid needs an overhaul. We need broadband in every part of the country not just big cities and towns.
And we’re poised to make big changes. The pandemic and the resulting shutdown of much of society has taught us a lot. Will office workers go back to offices or will they work remotely? Will teaching evolve into a kind of hybrid that goes year-round and respects parents’ schedules and the needs of kids? Will medicine go remote except for procedures? Should cars go electric and roads collect solar energy and every house have a charging station?
There are all kinds of opportunities for big ideas and no one person — or one party — has all the answers. Every government needs ideas from its loyal opposition.
So far the polls tell us that most people think Biden and the Democrats have done a good job of shoring up the citizenry with the stimulus and rolling out the vaccine. So, Grand Old Party — party of Lincoln, the party that ended slavery and enacted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments guaranteeing due process and equal protection and the right to vote, the party that founded Planned Parenthood, the party that founded Yosemite and Yellowstone and the modern conservation movement — it’s time to honor your roots and come up with some wonderful ideas that make our country better. Ball’s in your court.
(Thank you so much for all your emails. Reach me at WelcomeToThePandemic@gmail.com. And find me on Twitter @epagenyc or on Facebook @ElizabethPage and @SafeTheFilmbyEPage or online @AboutThatNightTheFilm.com)