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Political Philosophy September 2, 2009

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.

One day I’ll figure out what this blog is for. Anyway…

I can’t help be frustrated by the condition of politics in the United States national government. It’s not that I’m a liberal Democrat, angry about Republican “no”-ism and Blue Dog cronyism scuppering health care reform. It’s not that I’m a conservative Republican, angry that Obama’s campaign rhetoric about bipartisanship turned out to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric. What upsets me is that I am neither one of those things, and so I have effectively have no voice in government.

There are many genius elements of the American system. One is the (unforeseen) tendency for political parties to share power simultaneously. This blunts the power of parties (not a formal part of the American system) and forces dialogue and compromise. The president and both houses of Congress have been of the same party for only 21 years since the end of World War II.

But since George W. Bush was elected, that wonderful dynamic has all but flown out the window, and five of the last nine years have seen an all Republican or all Democratic government. Given Democrats’ obscene majorities, that is unlikely to change for at least three years.

That’s a problem. In a parliamentary system (which I’m not advocating), parties rarely lay claim to a pure majority. Big parties are forced into coalitions with little parties. Compromises and concessions are hammered out. In America, no such government-building occurs. Whichever party wins, wins. But the separate elections for our legislature and our head of state allow – and for some arcane reason, encourage – for two different parties to simultaneously hold the reins.  When that split does not take place, the winner truly can plug their ears and have on it with, barring bad party discipline.

And when we stop being forced to listen to the guy we don’t agree with, well, we stop listening to him altogether. And when we stop listening to half the country, well, we miss half the good ideas out there. Our bad ideas aren’t tested by any crucible except real experience, which is a fine crucible except that real world mistakes costs real money (think the bloated, partisan stimulus of recent memory) and real lives (think the war in Iraq).

The Republican party held all power and cannot blame anyone but themselves for abandoning party principle in allowing government spending to swell on their watch, and have lost the pulse of the nation on timely issues like prosecuting the war on terrorism or legalizing same-sex marriage. As the Democratic party suffers the inevitable decline in popularity from the heady days of Obama’s election and inauguration, the Republican party’s support has failed to rematerialize. Voters see them for what they are: leaderless, out-of-touch, unsure of what they are all about.

All I can think is: Democrats should take note. By all appearances they have swerved from a principled if partisan path of undoing mistakes of the last administration and are blazing a trail of expanding the government for no other clear reason than expanding the government. More controls over pollution? Go. Subsidies for expensive, iffy ideas like wind-power and trains that cost more than the ones no one is now using? Billions. Health care? Public option (whispered: single option). In three years (not one), the Democrats will face a nation whose economy is still wobbly, with a stimulus that seems to have seeped away, with half-built crap between  Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and with a new health insurance regime that is riddled with lobbied loopholes. And the nation will say what they said so rightly to the Republicans in 2006 and 2008: “We don’t remember why we elected you. Get out.”

No one is to blame for this, of course. Naturally, parties compete vigorously for the control of everything they possibly can. But the steady tick-tock of the partisan clock, that mitigated radical policies and forced bipartisanship so well in the 20th century, has gotten out of whack. I hope that it levels out. Ideally, Obama is reelected (after a strong but not awesome showing by the Republicans), while the House and perhaps the Senate finally slip from Democratic fingers. If that happens, Obama’s best term will no doubt be his second.

As I hinted at the beginning, the reason I hunger for this bipartisanship is because it is the only hope for my fundamental political philosophy to be expressed. Since I graduated high school, every last one of my stances on basic political concepts has changed polarity, with the only exception being my opposition to legalized abortion. From government ownership of industry to same-sex marriage, I have learned and grown politically. I have tried out new ideological frameworks and followed them to their theoretical and pragmatic conclusions. And, where I stand now, I have a decidedly Democratic Republican philosophy. Put generally, I believe that Republican principles are the best means to Democratic ends. Because I care for the little guy, I think the market should be less and not more regulated. Because I want good jobs to stay in America, I think we should give businesses a free hand to ship them overseas. The best hope for combating climate change is one that trusts (though perhaps forces) the invisible hand.

It’s never neat. I loathe Republican opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, and could be persuaded to go for single-payer health care (if politicians could be upfront about it). I support reforming Guantanamo.  But I think the government has no right to endorse terminating pregnancies, and that the best way to end racism in America is to stop pretending that there are races in America.

We are, and will be, one nation. But in the last decade it has started to feel like two. It’s a shame.


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