Monday, August 01, 2011

Don't Blame The Politicians

Don't Blame The Politicians

I'm getting really, really tired of hearing complaints that the "politicians should work together" from ill-informed voters who simultaneously elect people who believe in completely opposite things. And I'm even more tired of hearing it from a journalism community that places a false value on neutrality and objectivity.

Last year was a serious washout for the Democrats in Iowa, but even within the landslide there are weird fault lines. A tenth of our state's voters simultaneously voted for a moderately liberal governor and an arch-conservative Senator. That's because at least a tenth of our electorate didn't vote on the issues. If you were voting based on ISSUES there is no way in hell you'd be voting simultaneously for Chet and Chuck.They voted because they liked Chuck Grassley's trick with the three lawnmowers better than they liked Roxanne Conlin's grandkids or, maybe, gender. (We're still in that no-women in Congress club with Mississippi...)

One of the lessons I've learned in 20 years of an active political life is that the people on opposite sides have more in common with each other than they do with the disengaged. And here's an example from the world of the pundits. While I largely disagree with the substance in conservative Charles Krauthammer's piece, I agree with his analysis of the problem and the stakes:
The distinctive visions of the two parties — social-democratic (sic) versus limited-government — have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama’s inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.

The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous, ubiquitous cliché. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered.
Dems win 2008, GOP wins 2010. The rubber match is next year. Given Republican behavior, I like Democratic chances.

But Republican behavior isn't really being aired. From the left, Paul Krugman:
We have a crisis in which the right is making insane demands, while the president and Democrats in Congress are bending over backward to be accommodating — offering plans that are all spending cuts and no taxes, plans that are far to the right of public opinion.
I got a great debt reduction plan that I can fit 5 1/2 times in Twitter's 140 character limit. Pretty popular, too:
Tax the rich end the war Tax the rich end the war Tax the rich end the war Tax the rich end the war Tax the rich end the war Tax the rich En
Krugman continues:
So what do most news reports say? They portray it as a situation in which both sides are equally partisan, equally intransigent — because news reports always do that. And we have influential pundits calling out for a new centrist party, a new centrist president, to get us away from the evils of partisanship.
One of the problems here is that even President Obama buys into this "evils of partisanship" worldview.

Partisanship has got a bad name. The Objective Paradigm idealizes the "Independent" voter who "studies the issues" and doesn't actually exist. If you actually "study the issues" and vote accordingly, 999 times out of 1000 you'll be voting a straight ticket one way or the other.

What all this means is that there is no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on.

You have to ask, what would it take for these news organizations and pundits to actually break with the convention that both sides are equally at fault? This is the clearest, starkest situation one can imagine short of civil war. If this won’t do it, nothing will.
Yet we're taught from grade school up to "Vote For The Person Not The Party." People who can't make up their minds, or won't admit that they don't care, don't understand, or just don't have time between all the demands of Real Life to comprehend, brag that they are "Independents," which sounds like Independence Day and is therefore "patriotic." And then these are the people complain that nothing gets done.

This isn't about "compromise." This is about us simultaneously electing people who believe opposite things. Don't look at Washington. Look in the mirror.

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