At one point during the presidential debate that took place last Wednesday night, moderator Jim Lehrer had to ask the candidates, “What is the difference?” He asked this twice, in a 15-second span, between President Obama’s inaccurate outline of Gov. Romney’s tax plan and the latter’s fumbled defense of his own economic platform.
Twice the moderator had to ask what it was that distinguished one talking head from the other. During a time when both parties are desperately trying to convey to the American people what exactly they are running on, it was their collectively blurred ideologies that stole the spotlight.
I wasn’t going to vote for either of these guys before this debate, but now I’m not sure if I will even watch the second one.
Every four years, both the Democrats and the Republicans exalt the significance of the upcoming election. They say it presents an exceedingly rare opportunity to influence the outcome of your nation, and they do this by giving you a choice between right and wrong, good and evil, a new way forward or a return to bedrock principles. But most importantly, they tell you that you have a choice to make, a choice that we all must make, with dire consequences attached to the wrong decision.
If you take a close look at the political parties that have won the presidency in the past couple decades, you will undoubtedly notice stark and decisive differences. Yet it is not the differences that define our broken political system; it is the fundamental similarities that both parties share. In the past eight years, both a Republican president and a Democratic president have trampled over the Constitution by upholding the USA PATRIOT act.
They have both started and escalated foreign military conflicts (no, they are not wars, Congress hasn’t declared one of those since World War II). They conclusively agree that tobacco kills 450,000 Americans a year and incurs $193 billion in health-related costs, yet it is medical marijuana that is destroying our society.
They mutually believe that while Americans of all walks of life are tightening their belts due to lower incomes, higher taxes and fewer jobs, it is acceptable for the federal government to spend billions on schools and roads in Afghanistan that were never built, foreign dictators who hate us, tax breaks for well-connected corporations, an unwinnable war on drugs, subsidies for farmers not to grow food, theft, graph, corruption and fraud through food stamps and Medicaid, and, my personal favorite, an academic study comparing the outcomes of the concurrent and separate use of malt liquor and marijuana.
It seems like these guys can agree on more than just who we shouldn’t allow into the debates. Considering that America is the only democracy on earth with just two main political parties, it is no surprise that there is considerable overlap between the candidates.
Yet at the same time, the extent to which any choice is free is undeniably tied to the range of options one has to choose from. On one hand, you have a guy who, given another four years, will continue to exacerbate our problems. On the other hand, you have a guy who will bring us back the polices that created the mess in the first place. How can we believe we have free choice in this country when the only two candidates with a shot at winning this thing aren’t all that different? If Democrats and Republicans are really just two sides of the same coin, what choice do we have but to flip it?
If we can all agree that the path we are on is unsustainable, then why are we given no choice but to sustain it?