Thursday, June 7, 2012

The "Political Divide", what it is and what it's not.

Been busy with the other blog and contractors, hence the lack of posts lately.

In all the blather over the Wisconsin recall, which I will give my take in another post, once again the pundits lazily went to the "Americans are all deeply divided" theme.  Yeah, all Americans are unflinching partisan liberal/progressive Democrats or conservative/Tea Party Republicans, just like we're all either Baby Boomers or Millenials (another theme of the pundits, must be some cognitive defect that doesn't allow them to consider more than two things). Oversimplified as that idea is, it is true that political power is controlled by only two hostile camps. But IMHO the origins of the differences between the two have little to do with the usual suspects put forth.

In my mind, politics is increasingly driven by the threats to the modern lifestyle generated by the lifestyle itself.  In the United States today, the dominating culture is the extended suburbia and exurbia. This culture is totally dependent on the car for mobility, consumes vast amounts of open space and energy, generates tremendous amounts of CO2 in the process and is economically supported by conspicuous consumption, construction, finance and marketing.  The last two have gone from becoming a means to an end to an end itself.  For many people, this is a seductive, easy and gloriously self-indulgent lifestyle.  And it has political power, enough to have warped our politics to suit it's needs.But as many have noted in the past, it's not sustainable and has hit the limits. Hence, the housing crash, corruption of the state so as to serve the financial industry, energy crunch and climate change.

Because this lifestyle is so important to so many people, the very concept of adaption and change needed to address these problems is viewed by it's defenders as an existential threat. Hence the emergence of the new reactionary "conservatives", who also engage in paranoia and religious fundamentalism as populist glue to bind themselves to the have-nots.  That's you modern Republicans.

What is the opposition? Well the Democratic party and liberalism/progressivism is still molded by late-60's New Left.  As I wrote about earlier, this mindset is generally anti-populist while considering itself the advocate of the people. In other words, the stereotype of an Ivory Tower liberal.  As such it is overly analytical, deliberately indecisive, condescending and tainted by new-jerk anti-Americanism.  Not a very good model for getting the votes of, you know, other Americans.  It doesn't matter if your ideas are right if you act like a stuck-up prick.  Now the Democrats are not monolithic like the Republicans and you have Clintons, Obamas and others who challenge this mold in one way or another, but that mindset I just described dominates the liberal/progressive talking heads and blogosphere. These folks remind more of some strident faculty I know who constantly criticize and rail against department leadership, yet who cowardly balk when offered the opportunity to step up to the plate themselves. All this results in a Democratic party that is ineffectual and incompetent with a stunning inability or unwillingness to make a genuine 21st Century populist appeal for reform.

The real problem though is not that all Americans fall into one of these two camps, many if not most of us don't.  The problem is they are the only game allowed in town.  Democrats and Republicans get preferential ballot access, taxpayer-subsidized primaries, control of districting and massive financial and media support.  Until this paradigm is broken, we can never get meaningful reform, our politics will remain paralyzed, and the looming challenges will not be met.

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