I confess to being totally discombobulated – altogether confused and frustrated. I have gritted my teeth and watched the Republican and Democrat so-called debates and am little the wiser. I have looked at several of the candidates' websites and read their proposals and their promises. How can we be expected to believe this stuff will actually happen?
The candidates make sweeping statements and wild promises about what he or she will do when elected president: reduce taxes, reduce the tax code to three pages, abolish the IRS, achieve a balanced budget, bring jobs back from overseas, eject 11 million undocumented aliens, build a wall on the U.S./Mexican border, make college tuition free, abandon Obamacare, or alternatively achieve healthcare for all, slash the size of government, break up the big banks, trim the wings of lobbyists, significantly increase spending on defense, assert American military power around the world, teach Russia and China sharp lessons ... on and on.
But they all seem to be content to ignore the hard fact that they all know, namely that no president has the supreme authority to implement these fanciful ambitions. The checks and balances that are intrinsic in the American political system effectively emasculate any president (can one emasculate a female president? – but I digress) and deny him/her from achieving such goals without the support of Congress. And does anyone think that all the members of the current Congress, or the Congress that will emerge in November 2016, will placidly lie down and swallow such nonsenses? Every time in recent years that the White House has come forward in January with a budget it has been promptly and roundly declared by the political opposition in Congress as 'dead on arrival.
It seems likely that in November 2016 the House of Representatives will remain in the hands of a set of raucous Republicans who can't even agree among themselves while the Democrats will impotently wail and gnash their teeth. In the Senate, with twice as many Republican seats up for grabs as Democrats, it is very likely that the outcome will be a seat or two either side of 50, and no party will come close to achieving the 60 votes necessary to pass a bill on a major item.
Is it practical to imagine that, with a wave of a magical presidential wand, all the deeply ingrained habits and practices under the Capitol Dome will be washed away by sweetness and light? And does anyone really believe that all of a sudden, out of a clear blue (or red) sky, the massive armada of vested interests, hedge fund kings, lobbyists and other denizens of K Street in Washington will drop their agendas and simply walk away?
None of this has been helped by the format of the so-called debates and the performance of the moderators. Some have been better than others – the MSNBC moderators were abysmal – but the Republican events have been little more than a cattle market of candidates. How can these individuals be expected to present their positions fully when they are given gotcha questions such as – "what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?" - and each candidate has a total of no more than 10 or 12 minutes of speaking time out of three hours with the moderators themselves and the commercials taking the rest? The Democrats have
been dealt a better hand by having only three candidates, and the one-on-one interview format on November 6 gave each a better opportunity to set out his/her views, but that didn't mean that their programs were any more likely to be successful when faced by a grumpy, discordant Congress that can scarcely agree on the time of day let alone work together to find a consensus on difficult issues.
It is not that I am against some of the smorgasbord of items I have listed in my second paragraph above. On the contrary, some would be nice if we could have them – but we can't, because congressional life doesn't work like that. Reducing the tax code to three pages is fantasy pie in the sky, so Carly Fiorina why give us a song and dance about it? Marco Rubio blithely offers a tax saving of over $1 trillion over ten years, and yet wants to increase defense spending by about the same amount.
With that amount of tax saving, where does he expect to find the extra money for defense? It is a proposal that would never pass in Congress. On the other side of the fence, while we can probably all agree that the costs of college tuition have gone through the roof, Bernie's plan to make college and university tuition entirely free would simply never get through Congress.
It is all very well for candidates to offer us fanciful wish lists but we are reminded at every election time of Mario Cuomo's adage, that politicians "may campaign in poetry but they must govern in prose". All the debates have done to date is provide opportunities for the participants to feed poetic meat to the braying masses gathered in the audiences we are shown on television. At least we now have a welcome respite from such theater – or is it farce? – until early in the New
What we really need is someone in the White House who can come up with sensible proposals and middle-of-the-road ways to get Congress working together.
But wait – now it is me coming up with a ridiculous idea that will never happen. As I said at the beginning, I am completely discombobulated.
Derek Boothby is a resident of Manchester.