From Franklin Delano Roosevelt on, Democrats have created bold, visionary plans to improve the quality of life for Americans. Social Security. Civil Rights legislation. Medicare. The Affordable Care Act. They’ve pushed to clean up the environment and educate our children. For more than half a century, Democrats have done the heavy lifting to help make this country a better place, giving their efforts names like The New Deal, The New Frontier and The Great Society.
Meanwhile, what have Republicans given us over the past 30 years, beginning with the Reagan administration? The Big Shrug. Our problems are too big to deal with, they say. We’ve just got to live with them. Here’s what The Big Shrug looks like: a conservative lawmaker with shoulders raised, arms out at his sides, palms up, saying, “What’re ya gonna do?”
Take climate change. Democrats acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet is growing warmer at an unprecedented rate, making our weather increasingly erratic and dangerous. They’ve put forward proposals big and small to try and slow the rapid shifts in climate that are affecting us today and could endanger the very existence of our grandchildren and great grandchildren.
But Republicans, ever since the topic was first raised, have acted like Shakespeare’s old, pathetic, half mad King Lear who shouted at the hurricane while thunder shook the earth and he was buffeted by winds and drenched by rains. “There’s no climate change,” conservatives continue to maintain as storms that are supposed to be decades or centuries apart become yearly occurrences. Superstorm Sandy ravaged the northeast in October. A few weeks ago, a deadly blizzard dropped record snowfall in Connecticut and paralyzed parts of New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. The east coast is faced with the frightening possibility of having to build sea walls to hold back the rising tides.
Gradually, reluctantly, some Republicans have been forced to admit climate change is real. But then comes The Big Shrug. It’s just a force of nature, they say. Whatever happens, happens. “What’re ya gonna do?”
Well, for starters, we can cut back on our use of fossil fuels by increasing gas mileage and replacing more gas guzzlers with hybrid and all-electric cars. We can make our buildings and appliances more energy efficient. We can add more wind and solar power to the energy grid and phase out the dirty coal-fired power plants. We can prepare ourselves better for the intense weather conditions we know are coming.
Republicans respond to this kind of logic with their all-purpose boogeyman, Big Government. More regulations! More government spending! It’s a fate worse than floods, drought and famine! Better to do nothing.
Then, of course, there’s the urgent problem of gun violence that Republicans seem to think is as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. Sure, 20 children were killed in the Newtown shooting. Yes, another thousand Americans have died from gunfire since then, and thousands more will be shot in the coming months. But what’re ya gonna do? You can’t restrict the sale of semi-automatic weapons that have the firepower of a hundred of those old muskets that were around when the Second Amendment was drafted. You can’t demand that every gun purchase be preceded by a background check to make sure the potential buyer isn’t a felon or mentally ill or someone on the U.S. terrorist watch list. Our hands are tied. We’re just gonna have to watch the next massacre on TV, shake our heads and say, “What a shame.”
Fix our crumbling infrastructure that’s reaching third world levels of decay while we bolster our economy with newly created jobs at the same time? Nope. That’s Big Government Spending! Fix up our old school buildings and fund education adequately from preschool through graduate school? Sorry, we simply can’t afford to invest in the future of our children.
Conservatives love to crow about American exceptionalism. We’re Number One! But when faced with our most pressing problems, they become the Party of No Will, the party that says, “We can’t do that.” My answer -- the Democratic answer -- is, “Yes, we can!”
(Editor’s Note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)