Our system isn’t broken, it’s dead

Two Steps Forward


President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on the vast majority of his campaign promises. So did George W. Bush. So did Bill Clinton. The elder Bush’s famous exercise in lip-reading — “No new taxes” — met the same fate. But that’s not their fault.

I’m no politician, but it’s obvious to me that the system in this country is dead. Never has that been so painfully obvious as now, with a Congress composed of squabbling dullards and a Supreme Court of stubborn octogenarians.Rachel Maddow delivered a deliciously scathing summary of this Congress’ accomplishments: “There has never been a Congress, in the history of Congress, that has done less than this one.” They have blocked bills to increase energy efficiency, increase minimum wage, extend jobless aid and decrease rates of student loan interest. They’re as polarized as a group of people can be, and they refuse to budge. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, is railroading legislation by a simple, irritating majority, handing down rulings on cases such as the Hobby Lobby fiasco which both limit individual freedom and give religion a monolithic presence in the public sphere — something our country has been trying to fight for centuries. Not only is this infuriating, it runs directly counter to the direction our country needs to move if we are to reassert ourselves as a power — both within our borders and without.

There are dozens of polemical articles about America’s descent into oligarchy, a system wherein a wealthy elite have total control over politics and policy. That assertion isn’t a hard one to believe — in the wake of the sadly impotent Occupy movement, everyone knows how much power the 1 percent holds. Many believe, and rightly so, that corporations are acting as puppet masters, yanking the strings of our politicians and governing bodies. But our country’s failure to uphold its constitutional mission of “general welfare” is not due solely to the influence of the fat cats at the top of the pile. It has just as much to do with those at the bottom — those unwilling or unable to see the problems with the system they support.

The Obama administration has come under fire from all corners. Whether it’s for being dictatorial, for being impotent or for being black, people seem to love to hate Obama. But I believe the anger stewing in this country has to do less with the man and more with the institution behind him. As the leader and figurehead of our government, Obama takes the blame, but the issues are systemic, not individual. The development of the Tea Party is the best example of this discontent — a large group unified by the idea that big government is evil and cannot help but corrupt. Led by men and women like Chris McDaniel and Sarah Palin, the Tea Party is on the brink of a break with the GOP.

This is an historic moment in our country’s political history. Since its founding, our country has been mired in the red and blue division that reigns today. New parties have largely been laughed out of Washington — witness the remarkably tenacious Ralph Nader for the Independents. This leaves us with the good old Democrats and Republicans, fighting each other tooth and nail (never, of course, crossing the sacred party line). The advent of a separate Tea Party, far to the right of the Republicans, threatens to tip this scale — and in my opinion, that’s a good thing.

I don’t like the Tea Party. I think its members are deluded, the poor rallying behind those who grind them down. But does provides an opportunity. On the surface, a Republican split seems like a godsend to the left: If your opponent is fighting against itself, it’s that much easier to win the fight. With our government paralyzed as it is, any action meets criticism from all sides. Either it’s too much compromise or not enough, an invasion of privacy or a lack of innovation, too much money or not enough good. As a result, most of the things our government could do are shot down before they take flight. The system is in rigor mortis, and the country is suffering.

Rather than rolling our eyes at the Tea Party, we should take a cue from them. For too long, we have been bound by classical party strictures, shoving ourselves into limited and gridlocked groups that function only for the interests of their pockets and pride. As misguided as the new far right may be, by threatening to break away from the GOP, they’re on the cusp of being far more progressive than any socialists. Rather than forcing ourselves into the too-small boundaries of the parties that exist, young people today should search for options that fit their ideas. Today, 50 percent of millennials identify as independent, but that’s not the only option. Little-known parties like the Futurist Party, the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party deserve our attention. If our generation can break the stranglehold maintained by generations of tradition and corporate influence, we will serve not only our own interests but those of our nation.

Contact Jacob Straus at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jacob_straus.

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  • anthonystjohn63

    Yes Jacob, the power of money and propaganda rule our democracy, but this has been true for hundreds of years, it’s the way we have allowed our democracy to function as long as we continue to fail to educate and inspire We The People to vote for democracy instead of oligarchy.

    Unfortunately, time is running out with increasing threats of global warming and inequalities.

    The solution is for our Best and Brightest, Berkeley professors and scholars, to join Robert Reich in informing the public on the causes and consequences of our continued failures to protect our democracy from the oligarchs and their sophists who control far too many of our politicians because our failures to demand truth and morality have placed our democracy at greater risk today than at any time since Solon and Socrates tried to warn us.

  • Pixilicious

    The Democrats had their *own* Tea Party extremists from the mid 60’s to the mid-70’s and — much like the Republicans have experienced/will experience — it took them 20+ years to find their way back into the White House. Not that the anti-war environmentalist extremists were especially wrong back then but the solution isn’t to hold your breath and have a screaming political temper tantrum ala these groups because, in the end, all that does is scare folks.

    What we DO need is a POTUS who doesn’t give in to these crazies and CONTINUALLY makes folks aware of what the Right Wing wackos are doing.

    How many people realize, for instance, that 9 of the top 10 states receiving federal aid are RED (New Mexico recently having been turned Blue) and the top 10 states receiving the LEAST federal aid are all BLUE? Without federal expenditures, Republican states would literally go bankrupt and Democrat states would have plenty of money for themselves. You’d think Obama would MENTION something like that, wouldn’t you? It’s like Democrats are ashamed of their success.

    How many people realize that the Nasdaq lost 2/3’s of its value under Bush and the GoP’s leadership and that it has now almost TRIPLED under Obama’s leadership? How many people realize that the unemployment rate has dropped by 40% under Obama?.This is not an aberration: America has HISTORICALLY had better economies when Democrats were in office — higher growth, lower unemployment, higher stock prices, and lower inflation. EVERY American should be aware of those statistics but they aren’t because the Democrats never tell anyone about them.

    How many people realize that America (still) pays the most of any developed nation for its healthcare AND receives the LEAST care for it? How many people realize the AETNA CEO made more last year in compensation that we’ve paid American presidents in the last 80 years? That money didn’t magically appear in the CEO’s pocket, it was given to him by CONSUMERS who (apparently) were vastly overcharged. Obama threw single-payer insurance — which would’ve prevented this abuse — under the bus and adopted the Republican plan except he forgot to tell folks that it WAS the Republican plan.

    The system’s not dead and not especially broken as long as Democrats are in power It is just silent and its voters are (evidently) ignorant. We need the poor, gays, women and senior citizens to follow minorities in voting for their own self-interest and THAT is just a question of communication. It they do that, no GoTP candidate will EVER get elected to office again. Problem solved.

  • Carol Denney

    This column is so funny. His suggestion is exactly what gave us George Bush.

    • IGoToSam’s

      The suggestion to consider other parties is what gave us a classically Republican president…?

  • Not all Tea Partiers are ‘ignorant rich’ or ‘hardship poor.’ Palin is Establishment, she ran as vice pres. with establishment RINO ( all but a few are RINOs IMO) John McCain. I’m an original tea partier and I support massive taxes on the very rich, and I mean massive like Truman style, waaaay up there.

    Only the rich like the RINO DINO dual keep capital gains tax and off-shore loopholes, in place. Obama and Romney, admitted on National TV, paid less in taxes than every single faculty member or professor at Cal — and that no one cars was highlighted as a problem in this semi confused piece. Heah, it undergrad.

    Look, most tea partiers are lower middle class $58,000 a year or less with the vast majority under poverty levels, and only Meg Whitman ( hijacker of the Tea Party, and even Rachel Maddow tried to link the Chock brothers but they give to both sides, equally — theirs is a public record, on Internet ) and most Tea Party winners of 2010 mid-terms changed to Republicans, indicating they were faux tea party and rode in on a bandwagon.

    Tea Party is not about a color or ethnocentric ideology, it is about overthrowing the ‘out-of-control’ ‘establishment!’ IT has its roots under George W. Bush second term, Repubs like I, who am no longer a REpub began to see him as a Leftcon, a super leftcon like Mao or any other petty ruler, with powers to make wars when no one wants them. All Tea Party purists like I saw Obama as Bush, a mirror image. They are supporters of the Wall Street, Military Industrial Complex, the Teachers Assoc. academic tenure mediocrity– all the host of problems pegging Society downward into barbaric oblivion.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    In point of fact, the Republicans and Democrats have been around for about 150 years. Prior to that, there were a number of other parties, including the Federalists, the Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, National Republicans, National Union, and Independent (i.e. no affiliation to a party). For what it’s worth!

    And of course, the Democrats have not always been the liberal party, nor the Republicans the conservative one.

  • Charlie

    Good point – wouldn’t it be great to use the Tea party’s strategy to build something that makes more sense for our country?

    • Willliam Wallace

      The Tea Party strategy is to point guns at people. What do you expect that to accomplish Toolittlebrains?

  • BearWithUs

    Incredibly well-written, as always. But you should read this for another perspective on what the Tea Party might really mean for America’s future: http://www.salon.com/2014/07/06/the_god_that_sucked_how_the_tea_party_right_just_makes_the_1_percent_richer/

    “A host of awesome myths attest to the power of this new god. Markets must rule, some prophets tell us, because of “globalization,” because the moral weight of the entire world somehow demands it. Others bear tidings of a “New Economy,” a spontaneous recombination of the DNA of social life according to which, again, markets simply must rule. The papers fill with rapturous talk of historical corners turned, of old structures abandoned, of endless booms and weightless work.

    The new god makes great demands on us, and its demands must be appeased. None can be shielded from its will. The welfare of AFDC mothers must be entrusted unhesitatingly to its mercies. Workers of every description must learn its discipline, must sacrifice all to achieve flexibility, to create shareholder value. The professional, the intellectual, the manager must each shed their pride and own up to their flawed, lowly natures, must acknowledge their impotence and insensibility before its divine logic. We put our healthcare system in its invisible hands, and to all appearances it botches the job. Yet the faith of the believers is not shaken. We deregulate the banking industry. Deregulate the broadcasters. Deregulate electricity. Halt antitrust enforcement. Make plans to privatize Social Security and to privatize the public schools.”

  • Guest

    I love your columns. They’re all so well written and on point!


    Oh here we go, the Daily Cal on the cutting edge with a “politics is broken” article. Snore.

  • Charlie

    Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking in the wake of the depressing Hobby Lobby decision – and for suggesting a way people who are not huge corporations can have a voice .