By Timothy Potts
Our politics have devolved into a contest to confuse insult with insight and rhetoric with reality. Read enough polls, though, and you begin to understand how reasonable most people really are.
Take taxes, for example. The prevailing political rhetoric suggests that people are uniformly opposed to tax increases. But recent polls of Pennsylvanians have found that:
57 percent are willing to pay higher fees for driver's licenses and registration if the money goes to road and bridge repairs.
71 percent want to tax Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
72 percent want smokeless tobacco and cigars to be taxed.
83 percent want to maintain support for public schools even in bad times, and they are willing to sacrifice other programs or raise state taxes to do so.
It's the ideologues who won't raise taxes, not the citizens; we're OK with taxes as long as we know we're getting something we want at a reasonable price.
But what we get instead echoes the old commercials featuring the absurd argument about whether Miller Lite "Tastes great!" or is "Less filling!" Some 70 percent of Americans believe the solution to the federal deficit is both more taxes and less spending. But in Washington, one side yells, "Class warfare!" while the other yells, "Shared sacrifice!" And both treat the worldwide economic shock waves that follow as mere collateral damage.
So if the parties aren't representing the majority of citizens, who will?
I hope that part of the answer is a new political action committee, the Majority Party PA. The fundamental question for the major parties is, "How do we get people to buy into our ideology?" But at the Majority Party PA, our fundamental question is, "How do we get people the government they want?"
Based on public opinion research that meets national standards for quality and transparency, the agenda of the Majority Party PA consists of what the majority of Pennsylvania citizens want from the government. To enforce the will of the majority, we will use a pledge, a report card, and active engagement in elections. How many elections we work on will depend entirely on how much money we have, which will in turn depend entirely on contributions from ordinary citizens, not deep-pocketed donors.
Public opinion research holds promise for some of the state's most difficult problems, including Philadelphia's. When the city wanted to tackle gun violence, for example, state lawmakers bowed to the gun lobby and stripped it of its power to protect its citizens. Yet there are reasons to believe Pennsylvania citizens would support Philadelphia's wishes as long as their own gun rights are protected.
A similar debate concerns whether local governments should be able to decide where gas drilling sites are located. The industry wants to preempt local governments, but 59 percent of the state's citizens want to keep that power in local hands.
The Majority Party PA aims to embody a founding principle of our nation: that people have the right to the govern themselves, and that the government's role is to help them do it.