The End of Politics December 9, 2007Posted by chuckwh in News and politics.
This is one of an occasional series of articles on the politics of today, rather than the politics of a time that could have been.
When I was in my 20s, some twenty some years ago, I remember having regular discussions with friends about, gag, politics. I hung around a large and smart enough group that we didn’t all agree on everything. One of my friends, much more conservative than I, regularly made persuasive arguments about the advantages of an unregulated free market. They weren’t persuasive enough to make me change my mind, but they were challenging and astute.
This was well after an event that many people considered a polarizing moment in American history, the resignation of President Nixon. Indeed, you would think that an event such as that would have naturally prompted the kind of catcalls we regularly see now between the two major parties in America. But Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon with the hope that it would heal the nation. It seems it did, at least to some extent.
After Jimmy Carter was elected, then defeated for re-election, evidence that Ford’s move worked can be seen in my lead example, a bunch of friends from both sides of the aisle talking about problems and solutions. It also reveals evidence of how politics, despite its flaws, could be invoked to attend to the various ills that afflict a nation.
There was no real bitterness on the part of Democrats after their man went down in the flames of a botched military operation in Iran and staggering inflation. They merely nodded and said, “we’re finished”, when Ronald Reagan ended his televised debate against Carter by asking the American people to look in their wallets when they went to the voting booth and ask themselves if they were better off than they had been four years prior.
Most people said, “no,” and the nation moved on, as did a reasonably civil discourse between Republicans and Democrats and the few independents that hung around the periphery.
Ronald Reagan changed the face of American politics and gave partial rise to the current Red State, Blue State phenomenon, but he was a likable enough character that he didn’t really provoke much animosity, even among those strongly who opposed him. And make no mistake — plenty of us did. Many of us were profoundly disturbed by almost every aspect of his policies, and we made fun of him because he seemed almost a caricature of himself. His affable personality did an amazing number on those who weren’t opposed to him, however, and hid the meanness inherent in his dogma.
In fact, that dogma, so obvious to progressives, but seemingly out of the view of the silent majority, was apparent even to his successor, George Bush Sr., who promised a “kinder, gentler” conservatism.
Bush Sr.’s presidency, also, saw little real change in political discourse.
Then, something happened.
George Sr. lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton, and the nastiness started.
I’m not sure what provoked the Republican party into such a frenzy, but from the moment Clinton stepped foot into the oval office Republicans became bent on his destruction. Their efforts to remove him from office began immediately, with their contrived Whitewater whitewash and, later, the Monica Lewinsky nonsense. It amounted to an attempt at a coup détat, and divisiveness and vitriol began to swirl around American politics with a fury that pushed independents even further away from the political process.
Meanwhile, the silent majority transformed itself from a block of voters who paid little attention to politics until voting day to a block of voters disgusted with politics in general.
Although it’s true that the majority of voters have held politicians in contempt for a long time, today’s rancor between Democrats and Republicans has pushed them out of the process completely, except for a few who have encamped with the Greens (and their disastrous association with Ralph Nader).
As a result, political discourse has degenerated into a nationwide flame war.
It’s a flame war most people want no part of. Go to a dinner party (not held by political geeks) and you’ll hear almost no discussion on politics. You won’t hear discussions about the problems in America, either, because people are afraid the talk will degenerate into a political discussion and ruin everyone’s night.
This fear is legitimate, because on those few occasions where someone is stupid enough to talk about “issues”, an extremist, with unbendable opinion (usually a man and usually a conservative, but sometimes a Green), will take over the conversation. This kind of individual will take on four or five people, and refuse to even entertain the idea that there are rational opinions other than his own.
This is happening during a very dangerous time for America.
The other day, my wife went to a business networking meeting and brought up the name Jimmy Carter. Several of the members of her group snickered. The skin around their mouths twisted as if taking in a whiff of bad meat. Then they went off on Carter as if he had cannibalized their children.
What began as an innocent mention of Habitat for Humanity turned into a bizarre, distasteful, and toxic encounter with strangers in a strange land. All my wife could ask me was, “Where does such lingering animosity come from?”
It’s a stunning turnaround from 1980.
Politics is dead. Those few who do bother to participate are rabid dogs with earmuffs.
The blog nation might respond to all of this by claiming that the very existence of hundreds of thousands of political blogs is evidence that politics is alive and well. But these blogs do not involve political discourse. They’re rants. Some of them, such as The Daily Kos, are often provocative and well researched, but the political slant is always obvious. There is little room for disagreement.
The comments sections for left and right leaning blogs are filled with self-congratulatory love pats or, on the odd occasion when someone from the other side dares visit, invective. This is not political discourse, it’s political paralysis, and it’s deadly.
Even a read through a political website that attempts to bring varied opinions together, such as WatchBlog, shows that it’s just a forum for flaming hysteria. The comments are often spiteful and angry. It’s rare to see a Republican say to a Democrat poster, “you raise an interesting point,” or vice-versa. And the Greens, still licking their wounds and still in denial after abandoning the political process altogether and voting for Ralph Nader, and, as a result, allowing George W. Bush to take office, spit venom at both Republicans and Democrats. They take a holier than thou attitude and do stupid things like lay in the streets to protest the Iraq war so people who have jobs can’t get to them. Which of course, just serves to defeat their own cause.
In the end, though, salvation, if it happens, will come from Independents, those who were once called the Silent Majority. They will tire of the partisanship and take over the conversation, pulling it away from those who are encamped within a tomb of tunnel vision and hate.
Historically, this kind of thing only occurs when a nation is on its knees.
Given the collapsing dollar, soaring gas prices, the real estate and credit crisis, the health care maelstrom, and an unstable world political environment fueled in no small part by an unpopular war, it’s amazing the political apathy that is gripping this nation remains so pervasive.
History teaches us that nations consumed by apathy either quickly or slowly see their freedoms erode. Eventually, but sometimes suddenly, dictatorship, and sometimes, tyranny, follows.
We’ve seen the beginnings of that already in this country, and yet the apathy remains. How far it goes is probably up to the Silent Majority.
That’s a pretty frightening thought, considering that if they abandon their responsibility, our fate is in the hands of the Blog Nation.