The American Voter: The Frustrating Search for the Truth
I recently watched an episode of the television show, “60 Minutes,” which talked about America’s addiction to mobile devices. It spurred some internal thought about my habits and the attention spans of my fellow humans, which seem to be growing shorter. With shorter attention spans and an economy that is more and more based on fulfilling our impulse needs, it seems as if everyone is rushing to be first, even if that means sacrificing quality.
That brings us to Washington, D.C. We are not even close to the midpoint of the Trump administration and the 115th Congress. Many have already judged this session and administration a failure. To me, that seems like an incredible rush to judgment, but much of the blame lies at the feet of the Trump administration (the president stated, “I alone can fix it,” at the GOP Convention), the Republicans who control Capitol Hill and more broadly an electoral and political system that too often rewards those who can state in a 30-second political ad how the world would be better off if we did these things and, "I can get it done." Cut to a shot of an American flag and some children and end scene.
If anyone could benefit from the adage of “under promise and over deliver,” it would be elected officials in Washington. Instead, we now have political campaigns promise to “make all of your wildest dreams come true” (a great line from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) or alternately “punish our enemies” (an actual campaign line used by former President Barack Obama). Is it any wonder that voter frustration rises when neither the policy outcomes or sufficient political shaming (“lock her up” comes to mind) have occurred?
The debate over health care reform is a perfect example of this. On the one hand, we had the Obama Administration and congressional Democrats promise that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would reduce costs for everyone and “if you liked your plan or your doctor you could keep them.” This was simply untrue. Whether you believe that the country is better off because of the ACA or not, it does not change the fact that they did not keep key promises that were made to assure its passage. (Another was the constant touting that the ACA didn’t include tax increases until the issue was brought before the Supreme Court, where the administration said essentially that of course there were tax increases, but I digress.)
On the other hand, we have congressional Republicans, who for more than seven years have told voters that if only they were in charge, they would simply repeal and replace the ACA and costs would be lower, all while not stripping the plan of some of its more favorable components such as allowing children to remain on their parents’ health plan into their mid to late 20s, assuring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and capping lifetime costs (I believe they also promised to include a unicorn). Then, after seven years, the GOP is handed the levers of power, and they do not have enough agreement within their party to pass a bill in the House where they own a 20-plus seat majority. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) stated, “It was as if the dog finally caught up to the car.”
What neither political party told Americans during this debate was the complete truth. Americans claim to want three basic components to the health care system: they want the best health care at the cheapest cost and they want it to be widely available and accessible. Basic economics tells you that a system can only provide two of the three and that there is no system available in which there are not people disadvantaged or inconvenienced. But both parties have claimed otherwise, and the voting public has allowed them to get away with it.
Our country faces a multitude of challenges, and I will let you in on a secret that my fellow colleagues who owe much of their employment to Washington would be loath to tell you. Elected officials cannot solve all the challenges that face our country. Despite what you hear during campaign season, there are no magic beans.
There are a great number of issues for which we need better outcomes and should demand them. Historically, the best policies that have been created in Washington are those that were somewhat bipartisan in nature and almost assuredly were not rushed. It may be a stretch for our short attention spans to handle a lengthy and detailed policy debate, but it is vital to healthy policy.
We live in a nation of more than 300 million people who are represented on Capitol Hill by 535 individuals. To expect policies in which everyone wins (or at least the people we like) to be churned out every 60 to 90 days is wrong. To expect our elected officials to deeply consider issues and produce the best solution possible at the time is not.