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12:08 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

Column: Column Common ground beneath the headlines

Here’s an issue where the interests of right and left overlap. With the economy, on the surface there’s division, but underneath there’s a common complaint. Most of the issues the left strives for are necessary patches on a broken system; the Obamacare system for insuring more people, the Medicaid expansion, the raise in the minimum wage, the calls for reductions of student loans. Many of these are really just efforts to recover lost ground.

It used to be more the case that employees received insurance through work. The prevalence of part-time jobs, varying hours, and contract-work reduced that, greatly increasing the need for low-wage insurance. The minimum wage boost mostly just recovers ground lost to inflation. Same with the effort to revise the cutoff amount between hourly and salaried. The same with the college issue. When state colleges were a better deal, relief wasn’t needed.

The left would be thrilled to have things going so well that these patches weren’t needed. The frustration that things aren’t going well enough for that is the same as the frustration behind some of the tea party folk, and some of the Trump supporters.

People of the right want fewer taxes spent on those programs both out of general principle and out of concern the government won’t have funds for Social Security and Medicare. Having fewer taxes spent on low-wage support would be fine by the left too, if it was because people were doing so well. Those who voted for Trump out of financial frustration were mostly upset about the decline in jobs; the hangover from the crash, fewer jobs, lower-quality jobs. The left has the same complaint.

Part of our differences are supposedly about how much government should do, but part of that comes back to the need for patches on a broken system.

People of the left are often as independent as anybody. Sometimes more. It is more often than not left-leaning people who try gutsy ventures like starting an organic farmers’-market farm as a way to make a living. Or they’ll start a cluster of like-minded businesses close together, often focusing on the arts, technology and culture. They’ll form international organizations to save the whales, or local organizations to save the local greenbelt.

The point is people of all stripes know how to form communities, start things, grow a local economy, take responsibility for local issues. The role of government only becomes an issue when things aren’t working right. When things function well, we all go off and do what comes naturally.

Politicians will take what should be a reasonable disagreement about how to deal with problems and turn it into an all-or-nothing battle against opponents who are supposedly out to destroy everything good and who are pure evil. Or they’ll promise the stars, but never rise above the gutter.

The grassroots across the spectrum are eager for improvement. Eager to get on board with some positive change. We need people at the levers of power who have the right priority -- that is, people -- and who are serious about it. I have no idea what the odds are, but there’s really nothing to stop big improvements from happening.

So, what are those people at the levers of power doing? Let’s hold their feet to the fire and get some real, positive change done.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.