And so we turn our attention from local elections to the year-long marathon of the presidential election - with a few days off for the Penn State scandal.
2012 promises to be a long, frustrating year for Americans. The Supreme Court having decided that corporations, as “persons,” enjoy the unlimited right to dump money into campaigns, our TVs and radios will be ever more crowded with attack ads, and our home telephones (and probably our cell phones) will ring ceaselessly with robo-calls.
The objects of this effort - and many billions of dollars - hardly seem worth it. Even lifelong Democrats will admit that President Obama has been a disappointment, but our major parties have no mechanism for dumping a sitting president.
Most Republicans will confess that their nine candidates are an uninspiring lot, and that their search is for someone to defeat Mr. Obama - not someone worthy to occupy the chair of Washington, Lincoln and TR.
Being neither a Democrat nor a Republican, I’m not all that interested in the ten available candidates. Aside from the strangely invisible Jon Huntsman, who has the sort of resume we once expected of a would-be president, the Republican candidates appear to range from the uninspiring to the stark raving mad.
But then, decades of experience have taught most Americans expect attractive disappointments from the Democrats and ever more cloud-cuckoo-land delusions from the Republicans.
What’s frustrating is the fact that none of these unappealing options seems to be even slightly concerned with the world we actually live in, with its challenges and opportunities. The lack of candidates with a grasp of modern reality stems from the limited choices of a two-party political system. For in such a system, there is little political advantage to be gained by addressing inconvenient realities when there are points to be scored by denigrating the opposition.
Americans need more choices. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear people insisting that they want another option. Some of these folks are Tea Party people, and - while I understand their frustrations - I honestly can’t begin to grasp their thought processes. Others are libertarians, and while I understand their thinking, their ideology strikes me as 10% idealism and 90% an excuse for adolescent narcissism.
But there also are people whose political roots hearken back to the great progressive tradition of Hamilton and Clay, Lincoln and TR, Eisenhower and Rockefeller - people who would once have considered themselves liberal Republicans (or western Democrats). These are my people, and it’s time we had a party of our own.
We are the people who insist on something called the common good - what our Founders called “the commonwealth.” We’re not at all reluctant to support, or pay for, a government strong enough to promote this commonwealth - though we are generally hostile to government action which favors special interests or tells people how to live their lives.
We are the people who are downright suspicious of unrestricted corporate capitalism - who recognize that the free hand government has granted to Big Business over the past several decades has caused more problems than it has solved - from the Gulf oil spill, to the Wall Street collapse, to the export of millions of manufacturing jobs to countries where labor is cheap and environmental and worker safety rules non-existent.
We are, to be sure, favorably inclined toward free markets, but - having read our Adam Smith - we realize that free markets and corporate capitalism are very different things. The fundamental assumption underlying free markets is that there are so many buyers and sellers that no one player can significantly influence supply and demand.
In other words, free markets are the exact opposite of a system in which entities such as Lehman Brothers, General Motors, or the Bank of America are “too big to fail.” Free markets are where small entrepreneurs take real risks - not where huge corporations seek government protection by buying politicians.
We are the people who acknowledge that our industrial way of life has created genuine threats to the long-term viability of this planet - including, yes, anthropogenic global climate change. More important, we are people who believe that this creeping disaster can be halted - and reversed - if we have the will to address the problem now, instead of pushing it off onto our children and grandchildren.
Because neither of our two political parties is willing to speak out seriously for policies which could transform our dirty, dangerous, and ultimately suicidal way of living to something like long-term sustainability, we need a third party which can.
There are other things a third party could do, such as advocating education which empowers young citizens to think, rather than memorize, and trust logic over magical thinking.
But the essential thing is to make a beginning. And where better than in Virginia, where one-party government has been the tradition since the early days of the Republic?