I have been arguing for years that the American political system is broken. Not in the way that everyone else says it is — the Democrats and Republicans unable to compromise or get anything done. Given what happens when the two major parties cooperate — “free trade” agreements that send American jobs overseas and cut wages for those that remain, wars we have no chance of winning, and tax “reform” that only benefits the extremely wealthy and the corporations they control — we could use a lot more Washington gridlock.
The best indication that the U.S. government is no longer a viable entity, and so beyond reform that we need to start from scratch, is the fact that the best and the brightest no longer aspire to a career in politics or governmental inspiration. It’s not just anecdotal; polls and studies show that the millennial generation, like the generation Xers before them, care deeply about the nation’s and the world’s problems but don’t think that it’s possible to solve them through the political system, refuse to sacrifice their personal privacy in a campaign, and are disgusted by the requirement of raising millions of dollars in order to run.
Despite the obstacles, every now and then — like that one tadpole out of a thousand that manages to evade the snapping jaws of hungry fish — someone interesting and intelligent decides to enter public life. Unfortunately, these poor souls must present themselves as boring and stupid in order to do so — and shred every last ounce of integrity they had before they entered the political process. If there is a better case for this political system being over and done, I don’t know what it is.
Current case study: Rand Paul.
The senator from Kentucky has been a principled voice of resistance to the Obama administration’s most egregious violations of privacy and civil liberties. He has relentlessly opposed the National Security Agency’s wholesale collection of Americans’ personal communications and digital data, filibustered to protest the attorney general’s refusal to rule out using drones to kill American citizens on American soil, and followed his libertarian father’s tradition of non-interventionism by opposing the post-9/11 endless “war on terror.”
In many respects Paul, a Republican, has been more liberal — and certainly more vocal — than the most left-leaning members of the Democratic Party.
Now, however, he has officially declared that he is running for president next year. And so the usual coalition of GOP officials, Washington Beltway pundits, and no doubt his campaign advisers are telling him that he must abandon the interesting, intelligent and true-to-the-constitution stances that got him noticed in the first place.
Gotta become “electable,” you see.
In just one week as a presidential candidate, he has backed away from his 2007 statement — which happened to have the virtue of being correct — that Iran did not represent a military threat to the U.S. To be a Republican these days, you see, you have to be against everything Obama does, and he just finished negotiating a deal to normalize relations with Iran.
He made some major efforts to reach out to African-Americans over the last few years — rare for a Republican — but there are early signs that his unwillingness to call out the racist “dog whistles” of his tea party-besotted opponents will neutralize his previous expressions of sympathy for black victims of police profiling and brutality.
He even flip-flopped on drones. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him,” he said recently.
What’s next: selling us out on the NSA? Apparently maybe.
I am tempted to argue that Paul is wrong, and that he would be better off personally as well as politically sticking to his guns. After all, he has, or at least has had, these popular positions all to himself.
Why follow the lead of Al Gore, who foolishly decided not to emphasize his credibility as an environmentalist in 2000?
Be that as it may, let’s focus on the big takeaway: the perception among the political class that, to be electable, you have to adjust your positions to conform to the banal, the uninspired, the illegal, with total disregard for the will or the greater good of the American people.
Ted Rall, a writer and political cartoonist, is the author of the new acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” © 2015 Ted Rall