Friday, July 16, 2010

Solving Our Problems Is Easy … But Almost Impossible

If you’re a progressive or liberal or Democrat or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days, advancing our agenda is not easy. Essentially, it means appealing to the selfless, generous nature of people -- asking our fellow citizens to dig down a bit more to pay for a transit system they might not use, or music classes in the public schools for someone else’s kids, or more social workers to help people they don’t know.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a much easier sell because their appeal is to the lesser human qualities: greed and selfishness, among others. It doesn’t matter where you rank on the affluence scale, they say your taxes are too high and you deserve a tax cut. If a politician has the guts to propose a modest tax increase, no matter how valid the purpose, the Republican attack machine swings into action and, almost every time, he or she is defeated.

The Republicans are now vigorously opposing any effort that would allow the infamous Bush $1.1 trillion tax cuts to expire. Any Democrat who votes to let those tax cuts lapse – as was stipulated in the Republican-sponsored law when it was passed – will be accused of “raising your taxes” in the next election.

In the meantime, and for lack of funding, we have allowed our country’s infrastructure to become woefully outdated and even dangerous. Hundreds of bridges in this country are structurally unsafe; our electrical grid is stretched to capacity, and vulnerable to cyber attack; compared to every other developed country, our passenger rail system is a joke. And – oh, yes – almost 36 million Americans, more than a third children, are living in poverty.

The shameful aspect to all this is that we can fix these things. Or at least bring about dramatic improvement. But there’s a catch: it will take some tax increases. For most people, the “sacrifice” would hardly be noticeable. For the many millions who are by any standard rich, it could mean giving up a $200 dinner at a fancy restaurant one night a month.

Democrats say that for the good of the country you should be willing to do that; Republicans say someone else is to blame for these problems and you shouldn’t have to do that. It’s a cynical and dishonest tactic, but much of the time it works. And that is a disgrace for which about half the people in this country must take the blame.