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The last gasp of the sensible center

I’ve been a bit skeptical of opinion polls since they failed to predict the outcome of the 2016 presidential race in such spectacular fashion, but one I saw last week caught my eye because it had a ring of truth to it. The Washington Post poll showed that people’s political affiliation is a good predictor of whether they believe that poor people are poor because of a lack of effort on their part or due to circumstances beyond their control.

It probably won’t shock you to learn that most Democrats (72 percent) believe poverty is usually a result of circumstances while a clear majority of Republicans (63 percent) believe people are poor because they aren’t trying hard enough to better themselves. Certainly the attitudes towards spending on social welfare programs typically exhibited by members of each party lend credence to the results of this poll.

If I had been part of this poll I would have had to reject the question as invalid. It’s just another iteration of the old “nature versus nurture” debate that psychologists have long since determined to be a false dichotomy. Human behavior cannot be explained without taking into account both the dispositions we are born with and the environment in which we are raised.

It’s a little like asking whether blue or red is mostly responsible for making the color purple. Just asking the question betrays a lack of understanding of the subject matter.

Do Republicans really believe that a child born to a drug-addicted single mother and raised in a neighborhood where they have to join a gang just to stay alive has a fair shot at success in life? And do Democrats really believe that there aren’t plenty of able-bodied people out there who are collecting government assistance just because they’d rather not work? As the poll showed, the answer in many cases is probably “yes.”

And I’m afraid the number of people who do have a more balanced and less extreme view about poverty and many other subjects in each party is dwindling by the day. That’s why compromise has become a dirty word in politics and the two parties have completely lost the ability to work together on anything.

The pathetic attempt by the GOP to “repeal and replace” Obamacare is the latest stark example of how broken our political system is. Obamacare itself was rammed through Congress with no Republican participation when Democrats had control of Congress and the Republicans would have undone it in similar partisan fashion had a trio of moderate Republicans in the Senate not defected and put the brakes on the process.

One of the senators who voted “nay” to the GOP attempt to scuttle Obamacare, John McCain, R-Ariz., made a startlingly rational speech prior to that vote, just after learning that he has a life threatening brain tumor. I’ll quote the key part of his statement here in its entirety because it displays a hefty dose of both patriotism and common sense.

“One of the major problems with Obamacare was that it was written on a strict party-line basis and driven through Congress without a single Republican vote. As this law continues to crumble in Arizona and states across the country, we must not repeat the original mistakes that led to Obamacare’s failure. The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation’s governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care.”

Imagine Congress following a process where legislation is aired publicly before it is voted on and crafted with inputs from both parties. In any sane government that would indeed be “regular order,” but in this hyper-partisan environment I’m sure McCain is viewed as a traitor to his own party. He represents the last vestige of a “sensible center” in Washington that will probably soon disappear completely.

Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at fergcolumn@hotmail.com.

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