Two weeks ago, we had a pretty good meeting debating whether our two-party political system is a cause or an effect of our current paralysis. Dean and others thought the problem was that today’s politicians are less beholden to the public interest than in the past, while others (yo) said the paralysis is either the result of our extreme polarization or of one party’s refusal to compromise on anything, anytime
Monday is kind of a Part II meeting, but I changed the wording to encourage us to focus on something other than the system: The “solving” and the “problems” parts. I believe our political gridlock is far, far more fundamental than issue polarization. I think it’s a result of a basic disagreement about what our nation’s problems are and whether any e3ffort to resolve them that involves government is even appropriate. I’m not even sure we have a national consensus about the legitimate ends of politics anymore, much less its means.
I’ll explain more what I mean by this in my opening. Of course, there are other reasons to worry that our problems are particularly hard to solve these days that have less to do with the mismatch between polarization and the political system. For example, some of our big problems tend to be international in scope and thus partially outside of our ability to fix (terrorism, climate change). The Great Recession has made political cooperation harder, too. But, I hope you’ll allow me to talk about more inside-our-own-political-system origins of Washington gridlock. Frankly, I’ve never been more concerned about the functioning of American democracy, and my experience goes back 30+ years at this point.
Discussion Questions –
- Do Americans agree on what our big national problems are? If not, why not? Same questions for the solutions?
- Are elites more or less divided on these matters than the general public? Is there actually a silent majority on the big questions?
- If there is a rough consensus on problems and solutions, why are our political leaders not acting?
- If no consensus exists, even among regular people, then why not?
- Have we reached a point where we are sharply divided on the ends (goals) of politics and not just the means to those ends? If so, how did this happen – or is it really a new development at all (i.e., were we always sharply divided on basic questions)?
Links – [Lots of good ones!)
- The problem is our system itself, not polarization or extremism. It’s Madison’s fault. Recommended.
- [UPDATE: Yeah, okay, way too many links. But, read this one: The six big things we know about political polarization in America.]
- It’s the voters, all voters including regular people, not just elites.
- It’s especially conservative voters: Republican voters [link fixed] don’t want their leaders to compromise, a consistent polling result since 2010. Very important.
- It’s different worldviews: Left and Right in America do not share the same basic political-moral worldview.
- It’s safe districts: Few members of Congress fear losing to the other party enough to force cooperation with the other side.
- It’s NOT Fox or MSNBCs fault!
- It’s one side’s unprecedented radicalism, says this very harsh assessment of the Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. Some of you won’t like this.
- Your contrarian must-reads:
- We are NOT gridlocked, or at least, there’s no reason to think it will last.
- The solution is to strengthen parties, not weaken them!
NEXT WEEK: How do we judge which facts are true? Dean helps us explore the basics of epistemology.