What is the Most Important Issue Facing America Today? What one issue should Congress address immediately to provide the greatest benefit to the most Americans in need? Getting our troops the body and vehicle armor they need for protection from improvised explosive devices? Addressing our monumental budget and trade deficits? Providing assistance to the people devastated by Katrina and investigating real solutions to deeply-ingrained issues of poverty and race in America?

Bzzt! Wrong! The Most Important Issue Facing America Today is making damn sure Paris Hilton and the rest of the wealthiest top 1% of the country don’t lose their tax breaks. John at AMERICAblog nails it:

It’s really amazing. In the past week, the GOP tried to cut student loans. They tried to cut school lunches for 40,000 children. All because we just don’t have any more money. And at the same time, they want to have EVEN MORE TAX CUTS. And C-Span just confirmed that the House bill will cut Student Loans, Medicaid and Food Stamps. Yep, the Republicans say they simply have to cut all the programs for middle America and for the needy because we just don’t have any more money. But then they turn around and try to pass ANOTHER TAX CUT.

The far-right cabal that’s taken over the Republican party is out of control.

Oh yeah, by the way, that little Iraq fiasco has cost us $300 billion, more than enough to pay for everything.

We can have the argument about the fairness of taxation, who should pay how much, what levels of taxation are progressive and fair, and how we should make changes to streamline the federal tax code… but not during wartime. No government in the history of civilization has EVER cut taxes in a time of war.

The Republicans have abdicated their mantle of fiscal responsibility a long time ago. George W. Bush presides over the largest federal bureaucracy in our history, the largest federal budget and trade deficits in our history, all courtesy of government controlled exclusively by Republicans. Under Bill Clinton, government shrank and the budget was balanced (no wonder Republicans hated him so much). Anyone who still clings to the hoary cliché of the “tax-and-spend liberal” hasn’t been paying attention for the past thirteen years. (Unfortunately, “untax-and-overspend conservative” doesn’t trip off the tongue as well, despite being more factually accurate.)

Another pillar of the Right’s support for the GOP — “strong on defense” — is now also crumbling as people see the lack of planning, financial and tactical mismanagement, and continued carnage in Iraq. These are the politicians, my right-wing friends always point out, that draw overwhelming support from the military vote. As the coffins pile up and the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be decades away, it will be interesting to see how true that point remains.

The third leg in the conservative tripod is that old chestnut about being the party of “family values”. Even most non-religious conservatives I grew up with think the GOP symbolizes the flag, mom, baseball, and apple pie; all that is good, virtuous, and honorable about America. These conservatives balk at some of the more strident Evangelicals in their midst, but grudgingly accept their religious agenda as being a necessary trade for a reliable voting bloc. But as the Evangelicals overreach with issues like Terri Schiavo, Intelligent Design, stem cell research, and the Ten Commandments, the “live and let live, mind your own business” conservatives feel less and less in tune with the “base”. And even Evangelicals (at least the truly Christ-like ones) have a hard time reconciling “family values” with the homoerotic torture at Abu Ghraib, the desecration of religion at Gitmo, and dead bodies floating in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

The sad news is that even with the evaporation — nay, outright reversal — of the three mainstream memes of support for Republicans (fiscal conservative, strong on defense, family values), as evidenced by Bush’s and Congress’s cellar-dwelling approval ratings, the Democrats don’t poll much better. As Jon Stewart noted, it’s as if the Democrats are content to sit back, say and do nothing, let the Republicans implode, and then just collect the votes because now it’s their turn. Why should anyone abandon the Republicans and support the Democrats if the Democrats don’t take a strong, principled, opposition stand? Most people prefer the devil they know…

It is times like these when I long for a viable third party option in American politics. Rather than our partisan duopoly, where it seems one party tries to just be a less worse choice than the other, it would be nice if there were two major parties out of power, competing to be the better choice. Ah, but that would be too much like a democracy now, wouldn’t it?

The time is ripe for strong, principled, progressive Democratic leaders. If the Democrats drop the ball on this one, if they continue running “Republican Lite” in 2006, they’re going to lose me to the Greens. I’d rather support a principled party with no chance in hell of winning an election than a so-called progressive major party that should be able to knock Bush and his thugs out of the park like Barry Bonds in a tee-ball game.