Our small politics

Austerity is America’s biggest enemy.

Not the economic kind, although that’s proven to delay recovery and prolong suffering, especially for the most financially vulnerable among us.

I’m talking about political austerity. I’m talking about how those who are passed off as our nation’s “leaders” are thinking so small at a time when the problems facing the country are so big.

When we Americans are at our best we are inventing, we are building, we are exploring new frontiers.

We cannot be at our best with such austere politics. We have one party that seems intent on taking us back to the 19th Century, both socially and economically. And we have another party that appears focused only on holding on to the 20th Century. One party is busy tearing down what was built in the past, with no apparent intentions to build anything new. The other is just trying to stand in the way of the wrecking balls. Neither shows much of any interest in or excitement about what waits for us over the horizon. Neither is doing much imagining.

Everywhere I go, I bring up the need to make education as affordable for future generations as it was for us. I make the point that past generations made it possible for their children and grandchildren to go all the way through high school for free, and then made college incredibly inexpensive. Today we are burying our kids and grandkids under a mountain of debt, forcing them to mortgage their American Dreams. But when I say we have an obligation to do for future generations what past generations did for us, I’m routinely asked by people who self-describe as “progressives” how we could possibly afford to pay for that.

I answer their question with a question. How did past generations afford to do what they did for us? They were, after all, substantially poorer than we are today. That never seems to temper their skepticism.

“They’ll call you a socialist if you talk that way.”

Seriously? We can’t even talk about doing what’s right for our kids and grandkids because someone might call us a name? Is that what our politics has become? Middle school?

This is small politics.

How Democrats won rural votesDemocrats puzzle and puzzle over how farmers and other rural folk used to vote for them but generally no longer do. They puzzle until their puzzlers are sore. But they never seem to think about what Democrats thought before.

Democrats brought electricity to every barn and farmhouse. They built roads to get products more easily and quickly to market. They created market stability and economic security.

Travel those roads and go to any rural community today and you will find electricity. But the chances are great you won’t be able to get a cell phone signal. Or a wireless Internet connection.

Where are the calls from within the Democratic Party for the digital-age equivalent of rural electrification? Where is the commitment to bringing the power of what’s popularly called the information superhighway to every doorstep in America?

How could we possibly afford to pay for that? They’ll call you a socialist if you talk that way.

What we truly can’t afford is small politics. The challenges we face are way too big.

There is no reason the future cannot be bright. Well, actually, there is one. Political austerity.