One thing I wish I had thought to include in the original Father Knows Best post is that my dad was a conservative Republican and I was a liberal Democrat for pretty much all of our adult lives (he died in 2008). This wonderful conservative man taught me to buy local and to value community. We did not agree on our political parties, but we found common ground. Sometimes we foundered, but we always gave each other leeway, and we often agreed on issues of finance.
I would often start out with a “What do you think of ______” kind of question. You can almost always find common ground if you ask a few open-ended questions. Dad and I did.
Oh my, I do miss my father. I think we would have a bit more in common politically (and economically) today, and I would certainly welcome his take on the Great Recession from a conservative perspective. One thing my father and I agreed on is that you have to work together if you want to get things done. Compromise. Respect. Honesty.
These are Republican values. These are Democratic values.
One of Paul Roberts’s talking points in The Impulse Society is that our political parties have become branded, and as a result, both have pulled away from center (I would also blame gerrymandering and our political processes in general—most especially the caucusing process). While the two parties become increasingly opposed to agreeing on anything, on principle, the country shuts down.
It’s not just politicians. Several of my friends make blanket comments about Republicans. About how they’re ruining this and that. They hark back to Reagonomics and the war in Iraq.
But Clinton was responsible for overturning Glass-Steagall—the regulatory bill put in place after the Great Depression, to prevent another Great Depression. So instead we had the Great Recession, with the government bailing out banks because they’re too big to fail (TBTF), because if they did, they would take down the entire national—or global—economy.
I was super pissed about the government bailing out the banks. It seemed so unethical. I had surprise company in my anger. A lot of Republicans were pissed about government interfering in the free market and using tax dollars to do it. We’ve become so polarized, we can’t even find common ground when we have common ground!
Since the Great Recession, the TBTFs have become even bigger. They are engaging in similar schemes to increase profits and shareholder value. The crucial thing to note here is that they have not changed their behavior except perhaps to increase the risk factor. It does not take a rocket scientist, or even an economist, to conclude that this is not a good thing for the economy.
Here’s some potential common ground for moving beyond our current political polarization:
Financial reform: According to Roberts, “It’s worth noting that some of the loudest voices calling for financial reform are conservative. Likewise, when the Obama administration failed to break up the TBTF banks or to restrict their capacity to make high-risk gambles, the failure outraged not only liberals but many on the right as well.” The implicit promise of another bailout is, to many Republicans, a market-distorting government subsidy that allows big banks to take government-guaranteed risks that smaller banks have to avoid. There’s even been some bipartisan movement here: In 2013, Republican David Vitter (staunch Louisiana conservative) joined the very liberal Sherrod Brown of Ohio on a bill to force the big banks to dramatically cut the amount of debt they take on. The bill was stalled by the banking lobby. (Why is that even legal?)
Campaign finance reform: Between 2000 and 2012, spending on presidential campaigns more than quadrupled—to more than $2 billion. Two billion dollars! Since the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into politics. A lot of rich people love it, but the average person—even the average Republican—is not in favor. Roberts reports that 7 of 10 Republicans favor an amendment that would exclude corporations, unions, and other organizations from free speech protections for large campaign donations.
It makes me feel hopeful that there’s such strong common ground. I agree that these are good—and important—starting places. And I’m pretty sure my dad would as well.