Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Culture, Counter-Culture, And...?

The frame of Manichean thinking has set the tone for many years: "you're either with us, or you're against us." After many years of watching a bitterly partisan Congress fail to address the issues of the day, and after watching the subversion of the executive branch caused by a drive for loyalty, I heard someone talking about Joe Lieberman's reprieve and say, "It's about loyalty. He wasn't loyal to the party. He's going to stick a knife in Obama's back."

One of the sins of a two-party system is that it plays into the hands of the Manichean impulse: A versus B, black versus white. Even multiparty systems can fall into it; although the Liberal Democrats are present in Parliament, they fail to particularly budget it.

(What's fascinating about the Liberal Democrats, by the way, is that many of their supporters, when polled, don't believe that their party has any strong effect on politics. I had no idea that they were quite so self-aware--I imagine a similar poll might yield the same results about our Green Party. In a way, a vote for LD or Green or Reform or any other "impossible" candidate/party is simply a protest at this A or B frame--just like a Kucinich vote in the Primary).

In the last post, I discussed the different forces in the Republican Party. In a way, this entire election has broken down the American manichean vocabulary ("left" versus "right"). Some of the strongest supporters of Obama have been those who call themselves "Conservative"--not because they are RINOs in name only, but because what they consider to be "conservative" is what is coming from the Democrats in this election.

More and more of the issues that face us are no longer able to be contained in a left-right bucket; it's interesting that while we are talking about a "team of rivals," most of those rivals are in the Democratic Party. Now, some of that is indeed overblown, but when we talk about Scowcroft being a large influence over Obama's foreign policy advisor, when we see "conservative" economists championing bailouts, we start to wonder: what does left-right mean?

I think, in the long run, this is a good thing. The less we can stereotype the positions of our politicians (think "two of the four most liberal senators"), the more we'll understand where they stand. And they won't be able to use short euphemisms for their positions anymore. I remember one of the early Republican debates, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain were each talking about "good Conservative values," and each (I can almost guarantee) had a completely different definition for each of those. I remember when Samuel Alito and John Roberts were nominated to the Supreme Court, hearing conservative groups saying that they were pleased with the "conservative nature" of the nominations; Congress, on the other hand, failed to ascertain the "conservative nature" of those nominations. (After all, isn't the Unitary Executive big government?)

I'm not optimistic that we'll reach a point where "left" and "right" leave the vocabulary of our politics. After all, it's a time-honored tradition dating back to the oh-so-effective French Revolution (if the French Revolution had worried less about "left and right" and loyalty to the cause, and worried more about the integrity of the country and the living conditions of the citizens, things would have been different.

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