Archive for January, 2010


A debilitating polarity grips American politics.  This is not merely the bitter paritsanism that dominates Washington D.C., the media, and the US hinterland.  Rather, it’s a polarity of ideas – a barren chasm of thought separating “yes – no,” “either this or that,” – “black -white.”  Nowadays it is actually considered sissy to think before expressing an opinion.  Rather than tools of analysis, information and data are now carefully selected in order to support  un-nuanced positions no matter how complex the issue.  Sadly, we have lost “maybe” – “neither” – “both.”  We have become a nation of cowboy thinkers, shooting from the hip, and embarrassingly, hitting ourselves in the foot.  

This polarity is bringing us down.  If the USA is the nation of exceptionalism, it is rapidly becoming exceptional in ways for which we should not be proud.  Our wealth is more maldistributed than any of our developed peers; in this regard; instead we are similar to such nations as Cuba and Iran.  We are falling behind our peers in education.  On average we die about 4 and a half years sooner than the longest lived nations, and we are sliding backwards.  We now rank forty-fifth in infant mortality (out of 224 political entities – the CIA World Fact-book), and yes, here too, Cuba beats us out.   We have the lowest tax rate of any industrialized nation, and yet we whine about exorbitant taxes.  The size of our middle class is shrinking, size of those in poverty is growing – the percent of those owning homes lags behind others.  We spend a larger percent of our GNP on health care than do others while leaving a large population without access (unlike our developed peers).   We kill more people (relative to population), rape more people, and rob more people than others.  We are not even the most free (according to a UN measure).

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully, it is sufficient to make a point.  Our exceptionalism does not mean that the USA remains the shining beacon for all to emulate – the best.  This is especially true regarding our quality of life.  This is shameful for a country as wealthy and powerful as ours.  We are moving toward third world status, and if we opt for the pablum of “yes or no,” we are going to get there quickly.                 

Why have we abandoned responsible analysis and thought?  Why have we gravitated toward trivial answers based on hackneyed formulas?  Is it mental laziness?  Is it that our attention spans have shortened?  Is it that we teach rote memorization rather than analytical thought in our schools?  Is it that the news media is now inhabited by soporific, boffo propagandizers putting forth extreme points of view.  No doubt, it is for all of these reasons, and many more.  But lurking in the background is are structural causes that makes it inevitable that we will be polarized.  It is built in the nature of our democracy.  Consider:

  1. We have a two party system.  With few exceptions, our choices are black or white – either this or that.  Rarely do we think in terms of neither this nor that.   2. Our participation in a polarized politics does not stop with voting; we are members of one of our two parties.  Instead of citizens selecting and evaluating our elected leaders, we are mere subjects – blind pawns supporting the interests of our “superiors.”  Thus it is our role to act rather than think.   
  2. We have an either this or that, winner-take-all  political apparatus.  No matter how close the vote count – a president appoints a cabinet and dictates policy.  No matter how balanced the congress, the party with majority gets all committee chairmanships and a majority of committee members.  In our recent close elections, does either party have such a mandate to wield such power – should the opinions of 49.99999% of the population be ignored?   
  3. In reality, our democracy is a power-sharing arrangement.  “Who are you going to vote for?”  the answer “neither one!” is an anathema to the Democrat/Republican “duopoly.”  Yes, there is often bitter contest between the two members of this duopoly, but it is not in the interest of either to render the other a killing blow.  Evidence of this can be found in our electoral system: 
  • We are offered choice, and at times, these choices appear to be extreme, however, in the end, there is little difference in the policies that are actually enacted. 
  • With few exceptions, moneyed interests pour massive dollars in the campaign coffers of both parties irrespective of their “position.”   The destruction of the Howard Dean 2004 candidacy was not motivated by his “scream” (in reality, a reasonable reaction to an embarrassing loss that was transformed by sound technicians and editorializers), but because he was not beholden to the moneyed interests (his campaign was funded by small, citizen donations).       
  • There is an emphasis on the support of an in-group (incumbents) in the way elections are structured – no incumbent of the Republican/Democratic Duopoly is forced to face another.
  • We simply have no place for a third party – when one does emerge, the needed absolute majority becomes the need for a mere plurality.   Since 1872, plurality presidents were elected in 1880 – 1892, 1912 (Wilson), 1976 (Carter), 1992 (Clinton), and 2000 (G. W. Bush).  All were member of the duopoly.
  • When new power blocks emerge, they are incorporated into the two party system through gerrymandered districting or some other device.  This process is co-optation rather than integation ration.  For example, for years, African-Americans felt compelled to chose the lesser of two evils (the Democrats) in spite of receiving little from either party.   
  • There are high barriers to entry (into electoral politics).  Campaigns are expensive .  It is a bad investment to back a likely loser.  and outsider.  thus, there are very high “barriers to entry.”   When a third party does emerge, it is virtually ignored – a mere plurality of voters select the winner.  Thus, voting for a third party is a “wasted vote.”  Thus,  

It is little wonder that the USA is punging toward third-world status.  This slide will continue (toward the Abyss) as long is “citizens” continue to serve as foot soldiers marching to the tune of emotive, meaningless, hackneyed  mantras broadcast by glib assholes.

From the Abyss,

Jim

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