Thursday, January 07, 2010

My (not so) New Hobbyhorse

It's not really a new subject, since I've posted on it before, but expect it to become an obsession with me, to the extent that I have added a new label (and post-dated some previous posts with it). I am becoming obsessed with how democracies fail. On the one hand they fail many different ways. Some are subverted from within by anti-democratic parties. Some fall to military coups. Some dissolve into civil war. Some fall to foreign invaders.* But in all cases, the underlying dynamic is the same. Rival factions become increasingly polarized, shun all compromise and cooperation, disregard (or, sometimes, openly oppose) the rules of democratic fair play, and tear the democratic fabric apart. It is for that reason that today's highly polarized politics worry me.

Why has Obama moved so timidly on shutting down GTMO and ending torture? At least in part, because because of polarization and intense Republican attacks. Why has he refused to prosecute Bush era crimes and done his best to cover them up? At least in part, for fear of the partisan firestorm such an action would unleash. Why is healthcare reform so difficult to pass? Polarization. Why are we unable to take any action on global warming? Polarization. Ditto finacial reform? Polarization. The list goes on. Whatever your prime issue, polarization is almost certainly what is impeding action on it.

I do not mean to imply by this that everything on the Democratic agenda automatically deserves to succeed simply because the Democrats won in 2008. But I do suspect that things have reached the point where partisanship is becoming an end in itself regardless of the merits of policy. Or, as Saturday Night Live put it,"Mr President, We do not want to defeat health care reform, we want to defeat you, and this seems like the best way to do it."

This country has become so polarized that every issue, every one, has to be seen through the lens of polarization. The merits of a policy have become secondary.

Continued, next post

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