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The State of US Politics - An opinion

Discussion in 'Politics (deprecated)' started by Vote Quimby, Aug 27, 2003.

  1. Vote Quimby

    Vote Quimby TRIBE Member

    Lexington

    Not the way to do it


    Aug 14th 2003
    From The Economist print edition


    America's politics looks more and more like a Punch and Judy show

    OF ALL George Bush's promises in the 2000 election, his pledge to change the tone of politics has proved to be the emptiest. Today politics is as acrimonious as it has ever been. Rank-and-file Democrats regard Mr Bush as the spawn of Satan. Many congressmen will barely speak to each other. The Senate Judiciary Committee is paralysed by Democratic filibusters.

    Partisan battles are raging across the country. California's Republicans are bent on recalling a governor just nine months after his election. Texas's Republicans are trying to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts a mere two years after the last redistricting. The Democrats have responded by heading over the state line to deny the Republicans the quorum they need to pass laws, and are now in their third week of exile in New Mexico.


    Everywhere, politicians have taken to using weapons of last resort at the first opportunity. Once upon a time, politicians talked of impeaching a president only in the direst circumstances: but Bob Graham, a Florida senator and Democratic presidential candidate, has mentioned Mr Bush's name in this regard at the merest whiff of a problem. Once upon a time, redistricting happened only once a decade: but ever since the Colorado Republicans engaged in re-redistricting to boost the party's congressional representation, other legislatures have started to follow suit. As Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times has lamented, “The boundaries of civilised behaviour in the political world are crumbling.”

    Why is the political mood so over-heated? Some people inevitably blame Mr Bush. They argue that the closeness of the 2000 election put an onus on the “accidental president” to govern from the centre—and that September 11th gave him a golden opportunity to unify the country behind common values. But Mr Bush first over-interpreted his mandate by governing as a tax-cutting conservative, and then wounded the post-September 11th unity by embarking on a war of choice with Iraq.

    Mr Bush is undoubtedly a polarising figure: almost a third of voters say they won't vote for him under any circumstances, whereas about the same proportion say they will vote for him come what may. Yet his partisan effect is more a symptom than a cause of deeper problems with American democracy.

    The first thing driving Americans apart is the fact that the political parties are so evenly balanced. A slight shift in any direction can tilt the equilibrium of power. The Texan Republicans are hell-bent on redistricting because they have a chance of expanding their party's slim majority in Congress. The Democrats love filibustering because they think that a few more conservative judges will tilt the balance of the entire judicial branch.

    The second divisive factor is the culture war. The doughtiest activists are culture-warriors who think that they are engaged in a struggle for the soul of the republic. If you regard abortion as a fundamental human right, you cannot compromise with people who regard it as murder. If you regard heterosexual marriage as a godly institution, you cannot compromise with people who regard homosexual marriage as a natural right.


    Getting their own back

    All this is made even worse by the cycle of revenge. The Democrats want to get their own back for the 2000 election, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the Gingrichian revolution. The Republicans want to get theirs back for Mr Clinton's Houdini act and the savagings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas at the hearings for their Supreme Court nominations.

    Nowhere illustrates the cycle of revenge, or the damage it does, better than California. The Democrats relentlessly marginalised the Republicans by redistricting away their seats and demonising them as wild-eyed extremists. In the 2002 election Gray Davis broke an unwritten rule of politics by trying to pick his opponent, spending millions of dollars to rubbish the candidate he most feared, Richard Riordan, during the Republican primary. No wonder the Republicans seized on the recall to reap their revenge on the loathed Mr Davis.

    The final reason for all this partisanship is perhaps the most distasteful: the industry of political consultants who get rich by running elections and finding ever more ingenious weapons to destroy their opponents. The smart thinking among professional politicos these days is that there is much more to be gained from whipping up the base than from reaching out to independents. Howard Dean has made all the running in the Democratic primary by venting the party's anger at George Bush, and could well continue this tactic in the general election. Some White House political operatives believe that the role of independents in elections is over-rated: the number of “real” independents—that is, people whose votes are really up for grabs rather than those who profess independence but usually vote along partisan lines—may be as low as 7% of the electorate.

    All this partisanship is dismal news for American democracy. The sight of the unloved Mr Davis being roasted on a spit is certainly producing an upsurge of interest in politics. And people who did not give two hoots about redistricting cannot help taking notice of the Democratic desperadoes fleeing the Lone Star State, pursued by the Texas Rangers. But this is politics as freak-show rather than as deliberative democracy.

    The growing nastiness of American politics is also undermining popular faith in government. How can intelligent people watch the “We're right, you're wrong” blather on the talk-shows without losing interest in public debate? And how can they watch the cynical gerrymandering that is going on in Texas without concluding that democracy is being degraded?

    America is currently engaged in a bold experiment to bring democracy to the Middle East. As it does so, it needs to pay a little more attention to tending the flame of democracy back home.
     
  2. OTIS

    OTIS TRIBE Member

  3. organik

    organik TRIBE Member

  4. Boss Hog

    Boss Hog TRIBE Member

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