Maria Gutzeit | Remember the Bell Curve as 2020 Approaches

As we venture into the next year and a half, approaching the November 2020 elections, we all will be told what “we” believe. Democrats want this. Republicans want that. Polls and headlines show we are becoming increasingly partisan and tied to “our camp.”

Of course, it is also handy to remember that extremism sells but bell curves don’t lie. The majority of people are in the middle, politically. 

Self-proclaimed Reagan Republicans say they don’t know where their party went. As a socially liberal fiscally conservative Democrat, I wonder the same thing about the party I thought was for middle-class working people. 

Of course, it’s risky for anyone to admit they don’t agree with the “common knowledge” of their own party on hot-button issues. We should all remember what we agree on, regardless of political affiliation: We want to live healthy, happy lives with our families and friends. We have a deep desire to make the American Dream work.

We do ourselves a disservice by using a partisan lens on fears and hopes. Many things are more experiential. In J.D. Vance’s excellent bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy,” he writes “I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels. And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.” 

Without understanding where the vast middle operates from, parties lose voters and society will be worse off. 

Sadly, current initiatives seem to shun a measured approach.

Pending statewide legislation would overrule communities’ elected officials and mandate marijuana dispensaries. Why, instead, aren’t we examining why we need more convenient recreational drugs at the same time as we have the opioid abuse crisis? Denver just decriminalized “magic mushrooms.” Are cocaine, meth, and heroin next? Does it bother anyone to see people driving down the street smoking a joint, as I have multiple times? Do we care about the kids in cars with drunk parents or home with passed out ones? Should those issues be more a priority than pressing for increased access?

There’s a huge semantics debate nationally and in California over health care. We debate the proper name (Socialism! Single payer! Medicare for All!) but no one seems to debate why the cost is so high. 

Why, if you pay cash, is your bill lower? Why are some of the exact same drugs cheaper in Europe than here? Why if you have to have car insurance do you not have to have basic health insurance? Do people know how much comprehensive health insurance costs if you buy it out of pocket? Have people worked with the Medicare+ supplemental insurance model? I have, and found it wonderful, but you don’t hear much about that.

Proposition 50 — legislation that would have mandated increased density around transit and in single family home zones — seems currently off the table. Was rezoning of sometimes blighted retail and commercial areas even considered instead? 

Did anyone ask a related question about why, for instance, L.A. Metro’s transit ridership has declined over 20% in the past five years despite more funding? How has ridesharing, recently blamed for increasing traffic in Silicon Valley, affected use of mass transit? As a rider of transit suggested (Mehmet Berker, L.A. Times, May 17) couldn’t we start with making buses and trains more convenient for current riders? Long waits and sparse schedules in suburban areas sadly make transit the last choice for most. How about setting, enforcing, and perhaps rewarding housing targets rather than dictating specific mechanisms? 

A few years back, there was a brief Democratic assault on college savings plans – 529 plans – because “mostly rich people had them.” That didn’t go well, and now some wise politicians like state Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon are looking at making them tax deductible or applicable to more educational expenses.

The vast middle wants to know they are going to be ok. Most know how tenuous it all is, how fast costs are rising, how they are barely keeping up, and how changes to the rules will change the game they are barely succeeding at. To not include their questions and concerns in political discussion is a mistake that was made in 2016. To keep making that mistake will further divide us, which is something no one needs.

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected official, and mom living in Santa Clarita. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among several local Democrats. 

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