Earlier this year a study revealed that republican-leaning states receive more federal government benefits than democratic-leaning states. In the South -- a GOP stronghold -- total benefits (including social security, Medicare, and income support) averaged approximately 25% of household income; in some districts this number capped at a whopping 49%.
This phenomena is perhaps best symbolized by a 2009 town hall in South Carolina, where a particularly livid citizen shouted at a representative: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare."
Wonder who is responsible for congressional gridlock? Hyper-partisanship? No pragmatic, solution-oriented conversations in Washington? These guys.
A large number of Americans aren't thinking critically about who they're voting for -- yet, clearly, these Americans are getting something out of government. For many, their lives depend on these benefits. Why then are these people electing politicians who vote for budgets like Paul Ryan's, that seek to cut the very services they rely on?
It's ironic that Republicans like Paul Ryan quote Ayn Rand -- the libertarian author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged -- when bashing Democrats. Rand's worldview argues that "the second-handers" -- the moochers -- are destroying society. Yet it appears that the same people electing the Paul Ryans-of-the-world actually are moochers.
History shows that our country is at its greatest when we have a government that values compromise and debate, while working together towards solutions that benefit everyone. This isn't mushy-gushy stuff -- just look at the presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan (yes, all Republicans). Reagan cut taxes and worked side-by-side with the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. Eisenhower used revenue from high federal income taxes to finance a national highway system and other major infrastructure projects. Roosevelt enacted the nation's first comprehensive anti-trust / anti-monopoly regulations that would make today's Wall Street line up their lobbyists in droves.
Where are 2012's Teddys, Dwights, and Gippers? Point them out. I want to meet them. I want to shake their hand and buy them a beer; andmaybe even vote for them.
The point is, we get the government we deserve. The people who show up to vote are the people who determine who represents us. I'm not scared of the Republican who wants smaller government and actually lives those values. I'm scared of the Republicans who, in the words of Ayn Rand, want to have their cake and eat it too; it's clear from recent elections that this contradictory mentality translates to a gridlocked, hyper-partisan government that gets nothing done.
Now more than ever, we need leadership, vision, and solutions -- things that, as history shows, only come about when Republicans and Democrats work together. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Reagan showed that Republicans can not only do it, but do it extraordinarily well. It's clear that we're better off because of their bipartisan boldness and willingness to compromise.
But who puts those kinds of politicians in office? We do.
So it's up to us to think critically about what we value in our democracy and have constructive, well-informed debates in our districts; and vote accordingly.