Money is like sex; everyone wants to have it. Without money, American politics looses its linchpin and thus, its relevance. If we think about it, very few political issues have nothing to do with money—who gets it, who loses it, and how much? When discussing politics, we often think in terms of ideology. Are you liberal or conservative? If you’re conservative, many liberals think you want to help the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. If you’re liberal, many conservatives think that you believe in socialist redistribution, which they define as taking away the hard-earned dollars of the well-to-do and redistributing that wealth to poor Americans who abuse the welfare system. Countless social scientists examine said political ideologies and proclivities through the lens of their respective disciplines. Their research has yielded brilliant theories about public opinion, proposal power, lobbying, credible threats and political posturing – all of which are propounded to help us clarify how we think about politics.
Yet for all of the added complexity (much of which is interesting and insightful), we sometimes forget that so much of what goes on in American politics has to do with money and how it is spent. For instance, when considering American foreign policy, one could posit any of several lines of reasoning for why the nuclear deal with Iran was pivotal. Yet on a fundamental level, American foreign policy means primarily whatever it takes for America to retain superpower status as the wealthiest country on earth. Put simply: without money, politicians have little to argue about. Granted, abortion, same-sex marriage and gun control are among few political issues that do not involve money. What I would like to do is challenge Americans to briefly imagine what our world would look like if those issues, that have nothing to do with money, were the only ones considered when we elect our leaders. Needless to say, America’s political landscape would look very different. Political platforms as we know them would be history. I’m also not sure how many lobbyists would still be employed. Even for those who go into politics sincerely hoping to make a positive difference in the lives of others, without arguing about how best to accrue revenue and spend money, how would they go about doing so?
Considering the degree to which contention in American politics largely, though not exclusively, centers around how money is spent, I think we could benefit from a critical reassessment of our values. That is not to suggest that matters of economics are not of critical importance. Rather, instead of immediately arguing about cash flow and all issues directly impacted by it, what if we began a political conversation talking about values. In so doing, political discourse could more substantively engage matters of principle as opposed to simply interest. How useful it would be to have a congressional hearing about values is practically nugatory because that will never happen. What I am arguing in favor of can be done on an individual level and in conversation among ordinary people. Before defending a progressive tax system because democrats support it or endorsing entitlement reform because Republicans push for it, consider what it is that you value and why. What I propose here is neither a solution to the problems we face, nor a blueprint for how to solve them. Rather, my aim is to encourage my generation to pay less attention to party lines; to muster the courage to think critically for themselves and to be charitable and compassionate to any political perspective from which we can use insight and wisdom to empower us.