LENOX — A healthy two-party system is essential to the survival of democracy in our republic. But, there are disturbing signals that Democrats and Republicans have lost their sense of direction, creating a wilderness of confusion, at best, and subversion of American values, at worst.
Democrats face a blowout in November’s midterm elections, with an all-but-certain loss of both houses of Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court is now firmly conservative and far from the nonpartisan ideal that some court watchers still cling to.
President Joe Biden remains underrated, even though he steadied his leadership after some serious setbacks, notably the Afghanistan disaster. But, he remains as unpopular as the former president he defeated.
The Associated Press reported recently that some residents of rural northwest Pennsylvania are afraid to describe themselves as Democrats. The party’s brand is so poisonous in the region’s small towns that wary liberals have removed bumper stickers and yard signs and refuse to acknowledge publicly their party affiliation.
“The hatred for Democrats is just unbelievable,” said Tim Holohan, an accountant based in rural McKean County who recently encouraged his daughter to get rid of a pro-Joe Biden bumper sticker. “I feel like we’re on the run.”
You wouldn’t know it here in the true-blue Berkshires, but Democrats are shunned in many parts of rural America, leading to fears among some party officials that their candidates are on the ropes in Ohio, Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. These are states that will help decide the Senate majority in November, and the White House two years after that.
Even if Democrats continue to eke out victories by piling up urban and suburban votes, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, fears for her party’s success at the polls if it cannot stop the bleeding in rural areas.
“Democrats have the House, they have the Senate, the presidency, but it’s an unstable majority. By that, I mean, the narrowest kind, making it difficult to advance ideas and build coalitions,” said Heitkamp, pointing out that the party is hurting itself by not speaking out more forcefully against far-left positions that alienate rural voters, such as the progressive wing’s misbegotten push to “defund the police.”
As for Republicans, the struggle for the party’s soul and its principles remains a nightmare as long as a majority of its voters believe the former president’s lies about the election and the Jan. 6 “violent insurrection” — that’s Mitch McConnell’s description.
This week, Donald Trump described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s catastrophic dismemberment of Ukraine as “savvy” and a stroke of genius. Fox commentator Tucker Carlson described the initial incursion into eastern Ukraine as a “border dispute” and unworthy of concern.
Then there’s Florida’s Republican senator, Rick Scott, a party leader and a potential presidential candidate, who has an “11-point plan to rescue America.” Since McConnell has refused to lay out a policy agenda before next November’s elections, saying the party only needs to reveal its plans for running Congress “when we take it back,” Scott crafted his own.
“All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount,” he stated. “Currently, over half of Americans pay no income tax.”
While about 50 percent of taxpayers earn too little to owe federal income taxes after deductions and credits (60 percent in 2021, because of pandemic rescue plans), they do pay state income taxes, payroll taxes (deductions from earnings for Social Security and Medicare), gasoline taxes (18 cents a gallon), sales taxes and other levies, including local property taxes.
Scott’s would raise taxes on as many as 75 million people. Ironically, he also wants to slash the budget of the already hard-pressed IRS by up to 50 percent. And he proposes eliminating the Education Department, building Trump’s border wall and declaring that there are only two genders.
Because of blowback, Scott backpedaled by stating that his new tax would not apply to seniors or to others who are not able-bodied.
Michael Strain, an economic policy expert at the center-right American Enterprise Institute think tank, said he agreed with Scott’s “underlying motivation” of ensuring that everyone in the country contributes to the broader society.
“But, I don’t think that means everyone needs to contribute to the individual income tax system,” Strain said. “Raising kids is a contribution; working is a contribution; being a member of your community is a contribution. Yes, let’s have a stronger norm that everyone is a contributing member of our society — but I don’t know why that means everyone needs to contribute through a nominal income tax.”
It’s good to know that there are voices of reason among conservatives. But, Scott’s proposal is worth mentioning, only because it illustrates the bankruptcy of Republicans when it comes to laying out an agenda that might attract a larger share of centrist Americans.
The bottom line: We have two parties that desperately need fresh, enlightened younger leadership but, so far, it’s not to be found. No wonder politics is such a turnoff for the majority of fed-up Americans.