Normally conserving good practices is a good thing. Novelty for its own sake is a luxury at best, and counterproductive at worst. We require innovation only when there is a problem or an inefficiency or an injustice to deal with.
In practice however our society is heterogeneous, and conditions that are just fine for one part of society are poor for others. Marie Antoinette, when informed that people were rioting because they had no bread, supposedly said “Let them eat cake.” This is precisely the situation we find ourselves in, minus the pitchforks.
In our culture, economic inequality is extreme, and it is getting even more so. Those at the top are doing quite well indeed, but they fear they are losing their grip. The election of Obama was very alarming to these people. They applauded their political servants, such as Mitch McConnell, who pledged to do everything possible to make sure that Obama would serve only one term.
Now one of the greatest problems of our society is the medical care system. It is badly broken and everybody knows it. We spend more money for poorer health outcomes than any other industrialized country. Obama and the Democratic party in Congress, without the aid of a single Republican vote, passed a health care reform bill, which will go into full force in 2014. It will result in near-universal coverage of the population, and put in place systematic reforms to alter the goals of care from the current cover-your-butt plethora of excessive testing to an outcomes-rewarded scheme. It will save money and lives. This is a case where the status quo is harmful, and the Democratic alternative is a clear improvement.
It does not help when Romney, who invented some of the strategies in this plan when he was Governor of Massachusetts, builds his campaign on the promise to repeal this reform. Why has he abandoned his own plan? Because to get elected President he needed Republican support. Or not. It is impossible to tell what he actually thinks because he has adopted every position on this issue at one time or another. Now he is claiming that his plan will protect people from being denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. It actually does not, but that does not seem to keep him from claiming otherwise (see the comment on Romney Mendacity and the endorsement of Obama by the Times on this blog). How can anyone trust this man, who will say anything, and who is on record as having adopted every possible position on this matter?
Another big problem in our society is the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower, who was a general before becoming President, warned against a revolving-door relationship between industry and the military, but this relationship has evolved anyway. We now have a stupendous military, bigger than the next 15 countries combined. Our politics has become linked to the idea that this system should be expanded, if anything. This has led to the development, among Republicans, of the so-called neoconservative movement, which argued for wars of aggression. (Remember it was we who attacked Iraq, not the other way ’round). Aside from the fact that this war was prosecuted incompetently by both the Bush administration and by military brass, the notion of aggressive war is a grave departure from American ideals. It is really radical, not conservative. Romney and the Republicans want to return to this policy, this time with Iran as the target. Again, Romney is now saying that war with Iran would be a last resort. But the same people who pushed Bush to attack Iraq are advising Romney now. The man is unpredictable, but weak. He will almost certainly do what they say because he is inexperienced and irresponsible when it comes to foreign affairs. By contrast Obama has ended the war in Iraq, is ending the war in Afghanistan, and still is prosecuting a successful military operation to suppress the active Islamic extremist movement. In four years, he accomplished what Bush and the neoconservatives could not do in eight. Do we really want an utter naïf like Romney in charge if Israel attacks the nuclear processing facilities in Iran next Spring?
A really huge problem is the aging of our industrial base and the movement of capital and jobs abroad. There is no going back to the protectionism of the past, but we do not need to reward American companies for exporting jobs as current law allows. Obama has proposed straightforward reforms. The Republicans oppose this because it will limit profits by individuals and corporations who are exploiting the cheap labor markets in foreign countries like India and China.
Another big problem is the national debt. Our European allies have the same problem and they have pursued a policy of austerity to resolve it. The result is that they are on the brink of depression. In the US, thanks to Obama’s stimulus and tax relief for the middle class, our economy is growing faster than any European country. The Republicans would cut taxes in a way that would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, create pressure on deductions for the middle class, and pressure to increase, not decrease, the debt. Realizing his proposals were not selling, Romney has run away from them in his rhetoric, claiming to have been misunderstood. But he cannot escape the facts. We have him on record as proposing this enormous tax cut for the rich, without identifying anything he would cut in terms of expenditures, (apart from funding for Planned Parenthood and Public Broadcasting). A look at history shows that businessmen elected President have in general done very poorly when it comes to economic growth. The best rates of growth in the last hundred years have occurred under Democratic, not Republican administrations.
Another big problem in our society is right-wing religious extremism. People like Paul Ryan, Todd Akin, etc., are quite willing to impose their private religious convictions on the rest of us. They want to take away women’s rights. Obama is the conservative here, defending the liberties that women have fought and sometimes died to acquire. Also, Republicans are the natural haven of creationists and climate-change deniers, and if their austerity policies are put in place, there will be huge cuts in medical and scientific research sponsored by the Federal government. Again, this is radical. Obama is the conservative on this issue, seeking to preserve the powerful and beneficial role of the government in promoting the public good.
It is time for the wealthy in this country to share more of the cost of government, to help balance the books by restoring the tax structure left us by Bill Clinton (remember we were running a slight surplus when he left office). The Republicans are dragging their feet. They stand in the way of progress.