Reclaiming Politics: Solving Problems Washington Won’t


Michael Gecan in Boston Review:

One party starts with a belief that government can’t and shouldn’t deal with real issues, except perhaps to cut checks to private contractors and return tax dollars to “job creators.” It is led by a group of relatively young men and women—figures such as Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and Mike Mulvaney, Jim Jordan, and Michelle Bachmann—who were sons and daughters of the period that William Schneider referred to as “The Suburban Century. They and many of their colleagues have only known sprawl and expansion, growth and prosperity, new housing developments, malls, schools, corporate parks.

The other party was shaped by the political culture of big declining cities, where politicians remained in office while the places they represented gradually eroded. Chicago has been losing population for more than half a century, with a million fewer residents today than at its peaks and the empty neighborhoods they left behind. Violent crime in much of the south and west side is out of control, making the Windy City the nation’s most dangerous place for young males of color. In this culture of scarcity and violence, the political class has prospered. Superb public relations and campaigning have insulated its leaders from accountability. Their security has increased, with families from the Daleys on down handing offices off to second and third generations, while the safety and wellbeing of the majority of the city’s residents unravels. Civic progress and political success are severed. And White House leaders have taken these municipal experiences to Washington.

Neither party offers a way forward for the majority of Americans. In fact, there are really three parties, with the third party being the largest of all: the party of people who want America to work. That means “work” in the literal sense of direct employment. It also means being part of a society that renews its capacity to make steady and imperfect progress. Pragmatic political life requires accepting the partial nature of every solution and the grief that comes when some miss out. Such pragmatism can be risky for politicians, but our country’s best statesmen have managed it.