In the wake of the letter penned by several GOP Senators aimed at informing Iran of the trappings of our Constitution I felt it necessary to begin the second installment in my series of articles pertaining to the need for a third party in American politics. To be clear it’s not that I don’t agree with the contents of the letter authored and signed by 46 Republican Senators; in fact I think it’s rather relevant given our President’s tendency to skirt the Constitution whenever and wherever possible. What I disagree with is that this letter turns these discussions with the Iranians into a partisan issue when that is the last thing they should be. Presenting a strong front to the Iranians is paramount to these talks, and all this does is show Iran that we can’t even find common ground on an issue of great importance such as this. Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is not a left versus right sort of thing as it concerns everyone equally. The reason I bring this up is because it demonstrates quite clearly how deep the political divide between the GOP and the DNC has become. So deep in fact that the President feels he has the sole authority to make legally binding offers to Iran, such as the removal of economic sanctions, without needing the approval of the GOP controlled Congress; while at the same time the GOP feels it necessary to pen a letter to a foreign government in order to remind everyone that Congress is the real power in American government. Those are bold moves by both sides, and they are being done out of malice, anger and mistrust more than anything else. So now that we have once again identified yet another reason for the need of a third party let us examine what possible influence a third party might have on American politics.
To do this we’re going to examine some of the key political issues Americans hold to be most important: taxes, education, and immigration. Since we’re talking about society’s views on these issues we’re going to depend primarily on polling and for that we turn to one of the oldest and most respected pollsters in land, Gallup. Let’s start with taxes. The battle over taxation has been ongoing for decades. The Left is usually calling for greater taxation on higher income earners and lower taxes for the bottom brackets while the Right is typically arguing in favor of reduced taxes for everyone. The argument has shifted back and forth between Bush’s infamous tax cuts and Obama’s “pay your fair share” propaganda. You might find it interesting to know that between the inception of the income tax in 1913 and Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms the highest tax rate was at one time 94%. In fact tax rates on America’s top earners were over 90% for 16 years during that time span. Over the last century tax rates have fluctuated wildly from one extreme to the other, but what is the right answer? Higher taxes or lower taxes? More importantly what do the American people want?
According to Gallup polling conducted last year 63% of Americans are dissatisfied with the current level of taxation. Additionally 46% of Americans want taxes to be decreased versus only 4% who feel they should be increased. Put in partisan terms 31% of Democrats, 46% of Independents and 61% of Republicans think taxes are too high. While only 5% of D’s, 3% of I’s, and 2% of R’s think taxes should be increased. With so much public agreement on the direction the US tax code needs to take why then is it next to impossible to get tax reformation? Because the GOP platform plank regarding tax reductions that include top end earners conflicts with the DNC platform plank regarding wealth redistribution through increased taxation on the wealthy. In other words, it isn’t the people that necessarily disagree, it’s the parties.
Perhaps a more moderate and common sense oriented solution such as a fixed, flat tax rate might be in order. Or perhaps a simplification of the tax code that does away with the numerous tax breaks and loopholes that have over-complicated the system. I feel as though I’ve heard politicians on both sides of the isle argue in favor of these solutions (Jerry Brown -D, Sam Brownback -R). But how does one forge compromise between two diametrically opposed political groups? It seems a strong third party alternative might just be able to achieve that.
Let us move on to education. The education of our young people is something most all Americans can agree is extremely important. According to the most recent OECD PISA survey conducted in 2012 of the world’s education systems, the US ranks 36th overall in the world in terms of education. PISA puts our academic performance in reading and science at about average while our performance in mathematics is below average. The United States is the wealthiest, most powerful and most influential country in the world and yet our education system is barely performing at “average” levels. One of the primary contributors to this lack of academic production is teacher performance in the classroom.
To examine this we turn back to Gallup and a poll published earlier this year measuring teacher “job engagement”. Gallup posed a number of questions to teachers and based on their answers were able to place them into one of three groups: engaged, not engaged, actively disengaged. In other words: those who enthusiastically care about and are committed to their job, those who are dissatisfied and put little effort into their job, and those who are disgruntled to the point of acting out negatively in the classroom to the detriment of their students and peers. According to the survey 57% of US teachers are “not engaged” with their work while 13% are “actively disengaged. Only 30% of US teachers were considered to be “engaged” in their work. That means 70% of all US teachers are under-performing or not giving their best effort in the classroom. Additionally those 70% of teachers miss an annual 2.3 million days of work per year more than the 30% of “engaged” teachers. That means students are spending more and more time being taught by substitute teachers.
The issue of teacher effectiveness is largely framed by the more partisan issue of teacher tenure. Tenure offers teachers protection from “arbitrary” job termination, but the side affect of that is that it helps keep ineffective teachers in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in terminating a tenure protected teacher. Politically speaking this is often a left versus right issue, but not always. Typically this debate comes down to pro-union versus anti-union. The crux of the issue is that tenure is a primary cause of teacher’s unions and teacher’s unions are almost unanimously left leaning and often provide huge campaign contributions to DNC candidates. So while one side is viewed as anti-union and an enemy of teachers, the other side is viewed as being in the pocket of the teacher’s unions. And so again partisan entrenchment takes an issue that should be of equal concern and import to everyone and warps it into a political argument about something that is really parallel to the actual problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a third party solution that perhaps allowed tenure to continue but simply raised the standards for attaining it? Or maybe a proposal requiring teachers to undergo yearly performance reviews?
Last, let’s take a look at another hot-button topic, immigration. Immigration truly is a hot topic right now with all the drama surrounding President Obama’s use of executive order to skirt Congressional authority and Congress’s threats to withhold funding for DHS in response. By now we know that the President and his Democrat supporters are in favor of immigration reform that will allow millions of illegal immigrants permanent entry into the US, while the GOP is fairly firmly against any such action. But what do Americans think of this issue? According to a Gallup poll from earlier this year 60% of Americans are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration to America. Additionally 39% of Americans are dissatisfied and want less immigration compared to only 7% who want more. Another 14% are dissatisfied with immigration levels but did not indicate a preference for more or less immigration. Finally 33% of Americans are satisfied with current levels of immigration. That means that a majority of Americans actually want to see less immigration despite The President’s efforts to legalize millions of illegal immigrants.
The bottom line is that 60% of Americans think our immigration system is inadequate. So why are we unable to get immigration reform? Once again the problem lies with a deep partisan divide. The GOP comes off as an anti-immigrant bunch of racist xenophobes, while the Dems look like they are simply pandering to illegal immigrants in the hope of converting them into registered Democrats to help them win elections. The rhetoric, vitriol and partisan attacks are so intense and so withering that neither side is able to propose, much less advance, any sort of immigration reform bill that might appeal to both sides. Is it possible that a strong third party might be able to propose some sort of reform bill that tightens border security, deports dangerous criminals, revamps the naturalization and visa process, and offers a path to citizenship through military service or college education? Seems reasonable to me.
These are three of the most important issues as far as American voters are concerned. In all three instances we can clearly see how partisan nonsense continues to prevent any sort of forward progress. On many issues voters from the left and the right actually agree; rather it’s the parties themselves that are unable to reach agreement because there is so much animosity between them they refuse to listen to what the other side has to say. We need someone to stand in the middle and be the voice of reason. We need someone to show the GOP and the DNC that sometimes they actually have ideas and opinions that overlap, and that if they would simply stop attacking one another for two minutes just maybe they’d find some common ground. More than anything we need a strong third party to break the stalemate of trench warfare and finally get something accomplished in Washington.