Sturm: The real debate: Are Americans getting Trumped?
September 24, 2015
"There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you," Will Rogers quipped, capturing his era's zeitgeist and explaining the popularity of our moment's outsider presidential candidates.
It's good to be a non-politician when 75 percent of Americans say government corruption is widespread, up from 66 percent in 2009, and half say government is an immediate threat to lives and freedoms, according to Gallup.
It's bad to be the debate-shy "candidate of destiny," Hillary Clinton, when the first three words voters associate with her are "liar," "dishonest" and "untrustworthy," according to a Quinnipiac poll.
Even early GOP front-runner and heroic "outsider" Scott Walker succumbed to skepticism, exiting the race after getting trumped by voters who won't Think Again about his policy reversals.
With median incomes down 6.5 percent since 2007, U.S. debt surging to perilous heights and the world melting down, voters resist limiting their choice to donor favorites — Clinton 2.0 or Bush 3.0.
If there's a Rosetta Stone deciphering Americans' malaise, it's the unprecedented and often extra-constitutional way lawmakers make consequential decisions in defiance of public opinion.
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Fans of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders and conservative Ted Cruz meet at the intersection of their contempt for a government that gives sweetheart deals to well-connected cronies.
The newly elected may arrive in Washington convinced it's a cesspool, but after harnessing governmental power and dispensing billions, they discover it's an inviting Jacuzzi, where big government and big special interests collude to enrich the few, trumping the interests of the many.
Consider Obamacare, which passed on a party-line vote using political payoffs and parliamentary trickeries never before deployed for such far-reaching legislation. As consumers suffer choice and affordability frustrations, the health industry's largest stakeholders — drug, hospital and insurance companies — profit at taxpayers' expense.
Now it's the high-stakes Iran nuclear deal — perhaps history's most consequential — that's advancing without congressional review, never mind Senate ratification, trumping Americans who overwhelmingly agree with George Washington, who said, "Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light."
Our government's Iran-deal kabuki theater, featuring protagonists from both parties, renders obsolete Will Rogers' famous jest: "The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets."
The Iranian theocracy's aim — "Death to America" and the destruction of Western civilization — is, after all, the ultimate trumping of the American people. Hence, our long-standing bipartisan policy to deny the world's most dangerous regime the planet's most lethal weapons.
The Iran deal's break with consensus prompted me to join a Colorado delegation to meet with our Sen. Michael Bennet on Sept. 9. Despite "deep concerns about what the shape of Iran's nuclear program could look like," Bennet had broken with a bipartisan majority of 58 senators who opposed the pact and the secret side deals involving Iranian self-inspection.
Our goal was to confirm that Bennet wouldn't filibuster the Iran-deal, voting instead with at least 60 senators to allow the agreement's merits to be considered by the people's representatives, an expectation Bennet set by co-sponsoring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which passed 98-1 in May.
Disappointingly, Bennet didn't show. But his cowering staffers assured us he wouldn't filibuster, just as the anti-Iran deal rally at the Capitol with headliner Donald Trump was starting. The next day, Bennet proved his partisan chops by voting to filibuster, trumping the will of the American people.
President John F. Kennedy said, "A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." Eager to restore our sovereignty, Americans are searching for an independent leader, one they believe will "make America great again."
In his New York Magazine commentary, Frank Rich argues Trump is saving our democracy by "exposing, however crudely and at times inadvertently, the posturings of both the Republicans and the Democrats and the foolishness and obsolescence of much of the political culture they share."
Perhaps so, but the truth is, when politicians are elevated before winning in the free marketplace of ideas, they stop answering questions and being held accountable, and then everybody gets trumped.
Americans want candidates who are serious, knowledgeable and responsive, which explains why Sanders' crowds trump Clinton's and why idea-filled debate performances by Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio turbocharged their campaigns. It's why Democrats are starving for their own debates.
For the American people to trump Washington's agenda, we mustn't allow cults of personality to cocoon candidates or divide ourselves into "virtuous" and "dishonorable" camps. Most importantly, we must demand accountability from representatives like Bennet.
Think Again — As Will Rogers eventually conceded: "This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation."
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at email@example.com.