Commentary: 'We are no longer the democracy we once were'

The Kansas City StarAugust 23, 2012 

I’m trying to keep my head up. I really am. But the last few weeks, I’ve been immersed in the raw guts of what’s wrong with this country and what’s wrong with Congress.

As you might imagine, it’s a sticky, ugly mess made more so because some of our wisest, most experienced leaders and scholars aren’t sure how — or whether — we can turn it around.

“I don’t see anything out there pulling us out of this,” former senator Jack Danforth told me about Congress’ inability to reach consensus on much of anything these days, including the weighty fiscal policies before the nation. “That’s why I think it’s different this time.”

Have I made your day yet?

Danforth was in my ear one day, James Steele the next. He’s the UMKC grad who along with Donald Barlett form the nation’s most honored investigative reporting team. Steele was on my radio show “Up to Date” discussing his new book, “The Betrayal of the American Dream.” In it, the two talk about unfair trade policies undermining the middle class, tax policy skewed toward the rich and a general decay in the notion of the American dream.

“This is a sea change in American life without modern parallel,” Steele and Barlett write. “Where once we were told, over and over, that anyone could move up the economic ladder, now that movement is, with some exceptions, down.”

One alarming finding: Barlett and Steele write about the power of the new ruling class. From the book: “We have created the world’s newest financial aristocracy, a class that has successfully put itself beyond the reach of government constraint and can do pretty much whatever it wants … in pursuit of its own personal gain.”

The two also insist that whoever wins the White House will remain committed to policies that cripple the middle class. One reason: all that money pouring into campaigns.

“We are no longer the democracy we once were,” they say.

Have I brought you down far enough yet? If not, consider Congress — a subject close to my heart these days. My colleague Dave Helling and I have spent weeks trying to understand why it’s so locked up, unable to compromise, unable to really function in any way remotely as it should.

Our findings appear in a major report in Sunday’s Kansas Star. We found the situation worse than we thought and easy answers simply out of reach.

Again, what catches you up short is this fear that this country can’t fix it. The answers are complicated, and landing on them will require the type of attention and involvement that voters appear unwilling to give.

The last time Congress was so locked up, it took a Civil War to straighten things out.

You down there in the gutter with me yet?

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service