Every day when I check my email, I spend some time being amused by the junk I get from various friends which either attack President Obama or denigrate his opponents. It seems like half the people believe that President Obama is a left wing, liberal, socialist, gun grabbing, Muslim. The other half of the people seem to believe that the President is the most abused man in history. What I most enjoy is reading the complaints of my right wing friends about the civil liberties failings of our President. Even European left wing democracies are now dumping on our President because of domestic spying, snooping on our allies, targeted killing of Americans and others overseas, and the continuation of the failure of due process at Guantanamo Bay.
I have come to the conclusion that the problem with the President is that he is neither a true liberal nor a very good conservative. As my Polish-born grandmother would have said, “he is neither fleishek or milchek.” The Biblical prohibition against the mixing of meat and milk has become a political euphemism for politicians who try to mix two conflicting ideologies. It is simply halachically prohibited to eat milk and meat together, yet politicians, against all laws of common sense, regularly mix their philosophies. President Theodore Roosevelt, the great Republican environmentalist, was an unabashed hunter. The President won the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the Japanese-Russian War, while at the same time building up the United States Navy to unprecedented heights in order to perfect “gun diplomacy.” Such contrast and style are not unusual. Abraham Lincoln suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, finding that not at all inconsistent with the Emancipation Declaration. President Obama tramples on civil rights and liberties in a way that would have made liberals call for the impeachment of any Republican President. At the same time, the President seems tone deaf to deficiencies in his domestic social benefits program which threatens the long-term economic stability of the nation. The President seems to believe that we can “grow” our way out of the deficit. Ronald Reagan thought that was possible, and Bill Clinton actually pulled it off. Doubtless, neither President was totally responsible for the fact that national growth saved them from a deficit crisis. Dumb luck was their ally.
Liberals would like to see President Obama consistent in his philosophy, while Republicans would like to see the President shed himself from what they perceive as a liberal domestic agenda. Neither side is likely to get what they want. The President desires to ensure national security inexpensively by the use of drones, eavesdropping, and other preventative measures. In the meantime, the President has been impotent on Syria, Egypt, and a variety of other hot spots requiring stronger United States leadership. On the domestic front, the President suffers from the same myopia; he would like to see greater equality within our social structure and more fair tax treatment for those at the top of the heap who can afford to participate in reducing our deficit. Yet, the President seems to have withdrawn his troops from that battle, perhaps believing that he cannot win or that he has “bigger fish” to fry.
Most Americans actually want to support the President, regardless of who that President is. We want leadership that is strong, but not despotic. We want a President who will fight for fairness in the tax system. We want a President who will advocate for the sharing of responsibility without crunching creativity and business improvisation. We want more companies like Apple Computer to help America be prosperous, but we do not want Apple using legal tax gimmicks to evade its fair share of national responsibility. At one end of the spectrum is the business community that wants less regulation, less tax fairness, and more money for its shareholders. At the other end of the continuum are those who benefit from living off the largess of others. I see it all the time; young, able-bodied people on Social Security Disability because they may be “slow” mentally or have other disabilities that should not totally preclude them from participating in American productivity.
Unfortunately, the great American “middle” does not have the money to buy electoral votes. They do not have organized lobbying groups that are very effective. Look at who our most wealthy lobbying groups are: AARP, Pharmaceutical companies, very liberal groups attempting to maintain benefits for their members, and very conservative groups protecting their position of wealth and privilege in the nation. I interviewed a politician on Williamsport public radio the other night, who passionately and loudly cried out for “average joe” to rise up. Well, let me tell you Mr. Politician: “it ain’t gonna happen.” Those folks who should have the loudest voice are too busy working hard every day, supporting their families, and worrying about how they are going to get a little bit of entertainment in to reduce the ordinary stresses and strains of life.
So long as we permit unlimited funding of political campaigns, with a total lack of transparency, politicians will be purchased by the highest bidder. The democracy that is run by dollars instead of votes cannot long endure. Many writers and thinkers love to hark back to the days of the founding of our republic. The white protestant, well to do landowners who founded this country thought there would never need to have political parties because U.S. citizens would be either Virginians or northeastern bluebloods. Even the merchant class was looked down upon at the time that our republic was born. Even so, with almost complete homogeneity, extremely diverse political parties formed almost immediately. Unfortunately, the United States never had a long history of separating money and politics. Newspapers, well endowed by political partisans, supported either the Federalists or their early opponents. The same structure which utilized the engine of economic growth to build an empire from coast to coast created a political system that was so corrupt in many places that our democracy, at times, existed in name only. The early Tea Party had an opportunity to rouse Americans out of their slumber, but unfortunately they have simply become an arm of the Republican party, devoid of any enduring principles and themselves wed to those who use money to purchase political power.
Perhaps the next generation will do better than we did. Maybe, just maybe, our kids will be sick enough of the corruption and political confusion to demand real reform that will save our nation; campaign finance reform, tax reform, and transparency in government. Perhaps they will abandon the convenient labels of Republican and Democrat and work for candidates who can truly be responsive to the electorate. We will see what happens.
Rieders, Travis, Dohrmann, Mowrey, Humphrey & Waters
161 West Third Street
Williamsport, PA 1770
(570) 323-8711 (telephone)
(570) 323-4192 (facsimile)
Cliff Rieders, who practices law in Williamsport, is Past President of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority. None of the opinions expressed necessarily represent the views of these organizations.