Chapter 1: Introduction

The politics of partisanship and the resulting inaction and excuses have paralyzed decision-making, primarily at the Federal level, and the big issues of the day are not being addressed, leaving our future in jeopardy.

-Michael Bloomberg[1]

If Lenin, Mao, Churchill and John F. Kennedy were to walk together down the streets of Shanghai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Istanbul or Johannesburg (or even Almaty, Kazakhstan) today, they would not argue for a nanosecond about who “won” the ideological struggle among them. The world has become overwhelmingly a planet of people aspiring to live materially rich middle class lives, where substantial personal liberty if not democracy is the norm, and where people realistically believe that working hard will likely lead to a better future for them and their children.  Today there are places all over the world that more resemble America in the Fifties (with local cultures and modern technology) than the overwhelmingly politically repressive, anti-capitalist places they were thirty years ago.

There are also fewer people killed in wars today than at any time in history[2], less crime in most of our communities[3] and fewer people crippled and dying prematurely from preventable diseases.[4] There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who have escaped extreme poverty in the last couple of decades.[5] These benefits have all occurred on America’s global watch, and many of these benefits have come from ideas and policies of which America has been the chief proponent.

So why does almost no one in America, neither conservative Republicans nor liberal Democrats, nor most people in between, feel like we have “won” anything in the last couple of decades? [6] Is it because the press incessantly shoves sensationalized bad news and screaming commentators in our faces? Is it because our politicians have predominantly become preening whiners and bullies, incapable of working together in any meaningful way to address things our nation needs addressed, constantly focused instead on their own reelection? Or is it simply because once people have basic safety and food on their tables, their sense of well-being is more a function of the direction and rate of change in their lives than their actual level of well-being? In America things have flat lined economically for many during the last several decades,[7] while for others the perception that America’s power is in decline is anxiety provoking.[8] For yet others such elementary things as the frustration with the decay of America’s infrastructure has colored their perception of life in America.[9]

This website argues that whether one is an advocate of big government or small government, America needs a functional government. The unwillingness of our politicians to find middle ground,[9] as has been the case for much of the last several decades, is doing this nation serious harm. Sure, we are muddling through, but it is wearing us down and making us weaker and poorer.

Families, businesses, sports teams and congregations whose members constantly fight with one another are weaker than ones that can put their differences aside and work towards common goals. Most of us know this from experience. So it is with governments. In America we live in a country where infighting has become the principal activity of the people who govern us. Compromise is viewed as weakness or betrayal. Good policy options are not given an honest hearing because too many of our legislators think it is okay to think “if the President is for it I am against it.”

We need to find a way to stop this destructive nonsense. Our elected officials are put in office to solve problems, not simply to get reelected or to prevent the other side from enacting its policies. If a politician can’t help solve our nation’s most serious problems he or she should get out of public life and let someone else try.

Our political dysfunction and paralysis has led to an eroding standard of living for many in America and a lessening of our ability to assure for our citizens – and especially for our younger ones— that things will be better for their children than they were for them.  Since this American Dream is the essence of what has long made America so special, we run a real risk that if upward mobility for most Americans ceases to be a reality, America will cease to be, well…America.

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This website argues that the most productive place to find the middle ground that can make America’s politics functional again is the rebirth of the liberal wing of the Republican Party. (Call it the moderate wing if you must.)  The rebirth of a significant place in the Republican Party for such views would again provide a mechanism for cross-party consensus to be reached on a range of issues that today our increasingly nasty partisan politics is incapable of bridging.

America is to be commended for how inclusive we have become over the last half century, and while it may not seem that way to people watching TV news and reading newspapers, the progress we have made is incontrovertible. Yet at the same time, and for reasons both related and unrelated, as a nation we are much more divided than we were fifty years ago.[11] America today is practically evenly divided on a lot of important issues. Many of these divisions are based on good faith, reasonable disagreements among Americans. But for too long our politicians, our media and too many passionate citizens have in effect analogized politics in America to a football game. One side wins and the other loses.  This isn’t working well for us, and it’s time to accept that reasonable differences of opinion have to be respected, and a middle ground found. Unlike a football game, where one side wins and one doesn’t, life is full of examples where both sides win, such as a good marriage or a successful business partnership.

Think about this practically. Say if our current nasty political battles continue there is a one in three chance that really conservative folks are able to recast America in their image; a one in three chance that really liberal, social democratic folks are able to recast America in their image; and a one in three chance that America is pulled apart in the battle. Who would take a chance like that if he or she really loves this country, especially recognizing that there are huge numbers of people on each side of this ideological divide who would be unhappy living under one or the other vision? The middle is really the only place we can successfully gather.

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What would a Liberal Republican policy platform look like? And why do I regard myself, and so many Americans I know, as Liberal Republicans rather than as moderate Democrats?[12]

For many of us who regard ourselves as somewhere in the middle politically, I believe that there are two major issues that separate most who would identify as Republicans from those who would identify as Democrats. The first is whether we regard the government or the private sector as more capable of handling most problems, with the Republicans arguing for private sector solutions and the Democrats leaning to government ones. Personally I believe that good public education and public safety (national defense and domestic policing) are best handled by the government, but most else, like housing and job creation, are better handled by the private sector. I believe that government regulation is important, but should be simple, clear and enforceable, rather than provide a feeding frenzy for lawyers and lobbyists, and that those guilty of violating such regulations should be more severely punished, in a manner commensurate with the harm created by their deeds. (This is rarely true today.) Democrats are much more likely to be suspicious of business, and see the government as having a much bigger role in an ideal society, such as providing housing and jobs and regulating comprehensively and heavily.

The second issue that separates those of us who are somewhere in the middle but regard ourselves ideologically as Liberal Republicans rather than as Democrats is what we mean when we advocate for equality. Do we mean equality of opportunity with a strong social safety net (a liberal Republican view), or do we mean relative equality of where we all end up economically (the traditional social democratic view)?

While it is commonplace to say that America is the land of opportunity, the data increasingly demonstrates that today we are doing a poor job as a nation of providing clear paths to upward mobility.[13] This is in part because of things like globalization and technology, but also in part because we have had few effective government strategies to promote upward mobility.[14] And one of the reasons we have few effective strategies, in addition to our gridlocked government, is the muddled mess most of our politicians make of the issue. For example, President Obama’s  2013 Osawatomie, Kansas speech beautifully focused on equality of opportunity rather than equality of results. But the conversation quickly shifted to talking about the one percenters, which is much more about equality of result than equality of opportunity.  A LOT more Americans will support proactive government policies that are laser focused on equality of opportunity than policies that seek to achieve equality of result. After all, part of the American Dream can be summarized in the famous quote, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”[15]

Over a billion additional people around the world are now living lives that resemble variations of our consumer-oriented, middle class society.[16] This is the first time in history many have had the opportunity to affect their and their family’s futures so materially, relatively unencumbered by a repressive government or by their own beliefs that it is their fate to live the impoverished life they were born to.[17]  Billions more aspire to lead such lives and are studying and working very, very hard towards such goals. That’s a lot of energy out there around the globe, with more countries joining this club every decade.

This happy change towards American Dream self-help values around the world is to be celebrated. But it also limits America’s policy options in ways that make a Liberal Republican focus on equality of opportunity with a strong safety net much more achievable than the social democratic policies that prevail in much of Western Europe and are supported by many in the Democratic Party today.

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The following two chapters, “Republican” and “Liberal,” explain (in the case of the latter chapter, currently through the link to the review with commentary of Edmund Fawcett’s book Liberalism: The Life of an Idea) why neither “Republican” nor “Liberal” is a dirty word, and that together they form the basis for developing a middle space in politics that can bridge the passions that today have made our government dysfunctional and sclerotic. The chapters that follow (or will follow) those two set forth some policy suggestions, predominantly focused on fostering equality of opportunity. Few of these policy suggestions are original, but many merit more serious discussion than they are getting in our current poisoned political environment.

My goal in creating this website is modest: (1) to get a decent conversation going about some of these ideas, and (2) to help mentor others who wish to pursue Liberal Republican politics. If this website helps get some of the ideas discussed in these pages better thought through than I have been able to do, let alone actually implemented, that would be frosting on the cake.

[1] See New York Times, “Bloomberg Leaving Republican Party,” June 19, 2007 (“Bloomberg Leaving Republican Party- The New York Times.” Accessed August 31, 2015. http://cityroom.Blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/bloombe rg-leaving-republican-party/.)

[2] Pinker, Steven, and Arthur Morey, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. (New York: Penguin, 2012).

[3] See footnote 2.

[4] See Hans Rosling, “200 Countries, 200 Years” (BBC. Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats – BBC Four, 2010. [here].); Hans Rosling, “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen” (The Best Stats you’ve Ever Seen. Accessed August 31, 2015. http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling _s hows_the_best_stats_you_ve_ever_seen?language=en.)

[5] Kenny, Charles. Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding–And How We Can Improve the World Even More. Kindle. New York: Basic Books. Accessed August 31, 2015.

[6] See, David Brooks’ op-ed piece “The Siege Mentality Problem,” New York Times, November 13, 2017, citing a Pew  Research Center poll finding that “64 percent of Americans believe that their group has been losing most of the time.”

[7] See Benjamin M. Friedman, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, chapter 1. (Friedman, Benjamin M. The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. Reprint edition. Vintage, 2010.)

[8] See Chapter 15.

[9] See Chapter 12.

[10] See also Divided Congress “dancing dots” video [here] and “Political Polarization in the American Public: How Increasing Ideological Uniformity and Partisan Antipathy Affect Politics, Compromise and Everyday Life,” Pew Research Center, June 12, 2014. “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines- and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive- than at any point in the last two decades.” See also, Thomas E. Mann, “Admit It, Political Scientists: Politics Really is More Broken than Ever:” “The parties in Congress are as polarized- internally unified and distinctive from one another- as at any time in history… a tribalism [is] now such a prominent feature of American politics.” (Mann, Thomas E. “Admit It, Political Scientists: Politics Really Is More Broken than Ever.” The Atlantic, May 26, 2014. http://www.theatlantic.c om/politics/archive/2014/05/dysfunction/371544/). This statement is particularly troubling since it comes from Thomas Mann who, with his co-author Norm Ornstein, is a leading scholar of the U.S. government.  See, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How To Get It Back on Track, (Oxford University Press, 2008), and Mann, Thomas E. and Ornstein, Norm, “The Sources of American Political Dysfunction”.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-e-mann/its-even-worse-than-it-looks_b_1465713.html

[11] See “Can America Be Fixed?” Fareed Zakaria, Foreign Affairs, December 3, 2012 in which Zakaria states, “Studies show that the political divisions in Washington are at their worst since the years following the Civil War.” (Zakaria, Fareed. “Can America Be Fixed?” Foreign Affairs, February 2013. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2012-12-03/can-america-be-fixed.)  See also, George Packer, “Adversaries,” The New Yorker, October 29, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/29/adversaries-2, “Before the nineteen-seventies, …[D]espite the passions over various issues, government functioned pretty well.  Legislators routinely crossed party lines when they voted, and when they drank; filibusters in the Senate were reserved for the biggest bills; think tanks produced independent research, not partisan talking points. The “D.” or “R.” after a politician’s name did not tell you what he thought about everything, or everything you thought about him.”

[12] New Democrats, the ideologically centrist faction of the Democratic Party associated with President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Vice President Joe Biden, share many similarities with Liberal Republicanism though New Democrats have often been perceived by voters as comparably liberal to traditional Democrats. See Michael R. Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, “Economics, Entitlements and Social Issues: Voter Choice in the 1996 Presidential Election,” American Journal of Political Science. 42. No. 4 (1998) See also “Third Way.”(“Third Way.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, August 21, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Third _Way &oldid=677151404.)

[13] See Chapter 4. (Coming soon.)

[14] See Chapter 4. (Coming soon.)

[15] While this quote has been attributed to John Steinbeck, it may be a paraphrase. See Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress. (Wright, Ronald. A Short History of Progress. New York: CARROLL & GRAF, 2005) See also, Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013, 88: “Consider the history of labor in a country which, spiritually speaking, there are no workers, only candidates for the hand of the boss’s daughter.”

[16] See Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.; Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat : A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. 3rd ed. New York: Picador, 2007.

[17] See Mahbubani, Kishore. The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Reprint edition. PublicAffairs, 2009. Pg. 18.