Lurch on, O Mighty Ship of State

There has been extensive commentary about Hillary Clinton’s decision to position herself further left as a candidate than did her husband, who picked off many Southern white and independent votes from the GOP when he ran for POTUS. There’s not as many swing voters left these days, so Hillary Clinton is going where the votes are. It’s smart politics, and I expect the Republican candidates to try to fire up their own base in the same fashion.

U.S. Department of State/Wikimedia Commons

While not faulting candidates for taking a rational course, I do want to moan ineffectually about how dispiriting it is that we have no middle ground left in our national politics. This reduces us to a Westminster system of government when one party controls the White House and both Houses of Congress, and the rest of the time we have gridlock and ferocious efforts by the opposition to undo whatever happened in the other party’s “Parliament”, especially because it was a product of the wing of the party that the opposition hates the most. Given the difference between presidential and mid-term election voters, we probably have much more lurching back and forth to endure in the coming years.

I hate this aspect of our politics because Americans have to make many decisions in their lives that can’t be revised every two years if the policy environment lurches sharply in the opposite direction from which it was recently headed. Consider these kinds of life decisions: Should I buy a house and take out a mortgage? Should I risk taking a new job that doesn’t come with health insurance? Should I get married and have children? Can I afford to retire now? Should I try to start a business and hire people? Should I take out loans and go to medical school? Should I join the military? Those are just some of the consequential life decisions that people make in light of the public policy environment, and when it rocks and sways and reverses in dramatic fashion over and over, what once seemed like good choices can end up as disasters.

This is an entirely immature and self-indulgent post: i.e., I am just whining and have no solutions. I just wish we could agree as a people on some fundamental rules for the kind of country we want to have so that everyone who is just trying to get through this life without inordinate pain and frustration doesn’t feel that their future is a hostage to fortune every 24 months.

{Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.