When did we lose our vision?

Photo courtesy of Farm Future

Criticism is easy; meaningful leadership is much more difficult.

Something interesting happened in Washington last week. In a refreshing twist on business as usual, Senate Democrats introduced a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that plans to employ a slight tax increase on the nation’s wealthiest earners to meet America’s dire need for modernized roads, bridges and schools. The plan would not raise taxes on the middle class or businesses — the drivers of economic growth in the Republican lexicon — and therefore constitutes a common sense, ostensibly bipartisan approach to addressing a pressing public need.

The bill will fail because of politics and money. But its very introduction and aims are indicative of something exciting: a rare contemporary example of the politics of affirmative vision.

For far too long, our politics on both sides of the aisle have been strangled by an approach that trumpets snide criticism and invites derision without offering a meaningful vision of what we ought to use politics to do. The approach has been most visibly embodied in the shrieks of repeal and replace Obamacare emanating from Congressional Republicans for the better part of the past decade. Since Inauguration Day 2017, with control of all three branches of the federal government, Obamacare’s most vocal detractors have been granted the opportunity to act on repeal and replace and have failed miserably. The fundamental pitfall of repeal and replace remains that the doctrine falls far more on the side of tearing down the national healthcare system and almost completely lacks a substantive vision of what American healthcare should look like in the aftermath — criticism without vision.

The past year offered a golden opportunity for our nation to engage in a meaningful conversation about what we collectively envision for healthcare. Republicans, with control of all three branches, had the critical opportunity to dictate the terms of the discussion and to offer their vision of what replace looks like. Instead, they squandered the turning point and failed miserably on successive attempts to repeal Obamacare.

Meanwhile, angry constituents set to lose their healthcare with no replacement in sight flooded town halls and congressional offices in a striking display of civic action. As it turns out, a decade of snide criticism and derision doesn’t get you very far once you’re in the driver’s seat. The missing element in these politics: any sort of affirmative vision for America.

Criticism is easy; putting forth a meaningful vision is harder.

To be clear, this form of politics is far from unique to Republicans. Rather, it permeates our politics from top to bottom: From a dismissive Chuck Schumer lobbing ad hominem attacks at White House personnel to contemptuous Facebook memes intent on shutting down gun reform debates by attacking liberals for not knowing proper firearm terminology, our politics is despairingly deprived of meaningful vision and meaningful conversation about what our nation ought to do.

Which leads me back to the infrastructure bill. What is so exciting about the bill is not that it was proposed by Democrats or that it redistributes wealth from the nation’s richest to provide for public services and the common good. What makes the bill so exciting is that it pronounces a grand vision for addressing a pressing public concern that has gone unanswered for too long.

The bill offers us as a society a way for dealing with our nation’s infrastructure needs, and now we can begin the democratic process of debating and discussing that vision. Perhaps the model or the methods aren’t quite right — and that’s OK — we can tweak it here or there or scrap it entirely and move on. But at least something meaningful sits on the table for us to discuss.

The politics of affirmative vision will not come about from top down — we cannot rely on our leaders in Washington to usher in a new era of discourse when it is so easy to go on CNN and give a soundbite. Rather, it is incumbent on us as citizens to consciously move our politics forward, to engage in meaningful conversations about the public good and to be constructive in how we converse with one another.

Also, early voting for the 2018 primaries has begun in many states. Take this opportunity to make your voice heard.

Ryan Kambich is a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major. He is a copy editor for the Newswire from Deerfield, Ill.

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