If you watched last Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, you definitely got an earful. You heard a lot about what a horrible President Barack Obama has been, and how we need to undo everything he's done. You heard a lot of posturing from each candidate about how, with the help of their bumper-sticker bromides, they'll save our country from the one-half of its population they so desperately hate. You even heard the occasional whopper, whether it was Carla Fiorina describing a Planned Parenthood video that doesn't exist, or Jeb Bush talking about how his brother kept America "safe." (G-d keep us from that level of "safety.)
But you also didn't hear any evidence of something this country hasn't had enough of over the past thirty-five: intelligence. No ideas on how to make our nation stronger, or about how to make the lives of most Americans better. It was a Samuel Taylor Coleridge debate: blather, blather everywhere, and not a thought to think.
There was a time when, say whatever you will otherwise about it, conservatism had ideas. You may have thought they were good or bad ideas. I wasn't necessarily opposed to all of them. But the ideas were at least there, and conservatives spent time and energy advocating them loudly and fearlessly. Not any more. There could be no more naked admission of the failure of those ideas, as adopted and practiced over the past three and a half decades, than the refusal of the current crop of Republican presidential candidates to advocate or even mention any of these ideas. How could they? Self-funding tax cuts? Peace through "strength"? Making America more "godly" by encouraging religious bigotry? Outside of the incredibly shrinking Republican base, where is the market for any of this now?
The sad truth, of course, is that the solutions to America's problems has nothing to do with the departure of Barack Obama for the White House In fact, America is better off than it was seven years ago because President Obama has been a tremendously effective advocate for some very powerful ideas. True, most of those ideas involve the role that government plays in our lives. But those ideas have been tested over the course of Obama's two terms and have been successful. The power of public spending and regulation to stimulate a depressed economy and reign in the excesses of financial markets. The ability of government to work with the health industry and expand access to health insurance for millions of Americans. The power of government to help create a whole new industry centered around renewable energy, which has the additional benefit of helping to fight climate change.
All of this is based on one simple aspect of President Obama: he is smart. He understands the power of ideas, and values good ones. He understands that stupidity can not be saved by its short-term popularity. He understands that the value of ideas and the popularity of those ideas are not always the same thing. And it has not deterred him from advocating good ideas. And all of us are benefiting from that advocacy. How much more would we be benefiting, if stupidity powered by money hadn't gotten in the way?
On the state level, in California, a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, we can see the power of good ideas successfully fighting the power of devastating drought. California, the birthplace of modern conservative ideology, is now the laboratory for ideas on how to fight the changing climate of our world. And, because it has embraced good ideas, and enacted them into law, California is winning the battle.
How much more all of us would be winning, if we could embrace a politics of ideas--of good ideas, for that matter? You will only get that type of politics if you get out next year, get over the idea that there are no differences between the two major parties, and vote every Republican out of office and replace each one with a Democrat. Otherwise, you will get nothing but what the current Republican presidential clown car is offering. Rhetoric. And failure.