I’m a liberal. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe gays should be free to marry. I believe that society has an obligation to help the worst off. I believe public education should be free and fantastic. The government should not be allowed to spy on me, or my neighbors, whether they are citizens or not. Business should not be allowed to pollute the environment. Markets, I believe, when properly regulated, produce extraordinary innovation and spread wealth. I believe no one should be permitted to buy an election, human or not. I believe equality is a means to a better society. Regulation is necessary to keep the powerful true. And swift and efficient justice is necessary when the powerful are not true. I believe in the Great Society, even if we’ve not found it yet. I listen to NPR. I am a card carrying member of the ACLU.
But I also believe that the only way to fix this Republic is through cross-partisan reform. We must, I believe, find a way to work with people we don’t agree with to make this Republic work again. People who think differently from how we do about a wide range of substantive policy questions — from taxation to regulation to Internet policy to federalism.
Yet as I walked through the #OccupyWallSt protest Wednesday, and asked people about such cross-partisanship, I was not encouraged. There is an anger and frustration among those on the Left. They feel they’ve tried compromise before. It got us this. They’re not interested in more of this. They want something different. They want change. The sort of change they can really believe in.
And I realized then just how hard it was going to be to get people to understand what cross-partisan must mean. It does not mean compromising on substantive issues. It does not mean finding the middle between Left and Right. It does not mean the incoherent “bipartisanship” that too often takes over DC — giving us the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on drugs, and the sort of justice system that executes Troy Davis.
It means instead a constitutional cross-partisanship: The recognition that however much we disagree about substantive issues, we have to be able to agree about the system within which we work out those substantive disagreements. That however much we disagree as Democrats and Republicans, there has to be a foundation of agreement as citizens — about at the very least the system within which disagreement gets resolved.
That system for us is a democracy. Or more precisely, a representative democracy, cabined by a constitution that both limits the power of government and checks the power of one branch against the others. It is the rules of the game. The terms upon which competition happens.
Sometimes those rules don’t work. Or they don’t work anymore. Sometimes they defeat the objectives of not just one side in a competition, but all sides. And when that happens, all sides need to stop the competition for a moment and fix the rules. All sides must cooperate to make competition between all sides work again.
This is the cross-partisanship that I mean.
The Republic that our framers gave us does not work anymore. It does not work for the Left. It does not work for the Right. Federalist 52 promised us a Congress “dependent upon the People alone.” The last 15 years have produced a Congress dependent upon the Funders primarily. Members of Congress spend between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get back to Congress or to get their party back in power. As they do this, they obviously — obviously — bend themselves and their policies in a way that makes it easier for them to raise money. And as they do that, they send a clear message to America. Like a father fingering his Blackberry rather than playing with his kids, Congress shows us that we don’t matter. And like that kid, we get it. 75% of Americans believe “money buys results in Congress.” Only 12% of Americans have confidence in what Congress does.
12%. We need to keep that number in context. There were more who believed in the British Crown at the time of the Revolution than who believe in this Congress today. This Republic is lost. And it is way past time for us to get it back.
But we won’t get it back unless we find a way to work across the diversity that is America. Not to shove that diversity into a blender. But to find common ground about what’s gone wrong, and to commit to a common path to fixing it. We, as Americans, may not have common goals. We do, however, have a common enemy.
That enemy is the corruption of Congress. The single fact that most all of us agree about is that our Congress is bought, and our politics, corrupted. Not the buying of quid pro quo bribery. Congress is not criminal. But you don’t have to be a criminal to be corrupt. The corruption that is our Congress is in plain sight. It is legal, indeed, protected by the First Amendment. It is the bending and contorting to feed the fundraising frenzy that occupies the majority of the life of too many in Congress. And everyone — from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart (really, watch) — should be able to agree that this corruption is at the root of the problems facing this Republic. And that until we remedy this corruption, this Republic will remain lost.
I was hopeful about #OccupyWallSt because it is the first mass movement that might accurately speak to this more fundamental corruption. For as I explained here before, the story of Wall Street is this story of government corrupted. Not just in the lead up to the collapse, but more brazenly and terrifyingly in the aftermath of that collapse — when Wall Street effectively blackmailed both Republicans and Democrats to block any meaningful reform. #OccupyWallSt should be to call out this corruption, and unite a movement across the nation to demand that we change the system that permits this corruption. This is the root in Thoreau’s “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root.” This movement could be that one.
If it were, then it would be a million times more important than what happened in Madison. There was no way to understand the protests in Madison except as Democrat against Republican, as Left versus Right. The same with the Tea Party which, try as its leaders might, is only ever understood in America as the Right against the Left.
But as Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler told a packed and rapt audience at Harvard last month, we have to find a way to resist the business model that depends upon “making us hate each other.” We must find a way to look beyond our differences, to bracket those differences, so we can fix the system within which those differences compete. We need a time out, to fix the rules so that politics is not just a game to feed the ratings of cable news and Comedy Central.
I agree with you, Mark Meckler, that there is a business model of hate. It is the business model of too many, and it is destroying this Republic. So let’s put the fight over Medicare or Social Security aside for a moment, and find a way to fix this Republic. Not by criticizing those who dress differently (as is the Fox News meme of the day about these protesters), but by recognizing the passion of people who love this country every bit as much as you, and by working to unite us against our common enemy: The corruption that is this Congress.