Friday, June 10, 2011

Political Decadence

Andrew Sullivan asks the question "At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?"

For Sullivan it was the moment that Congress assented to torture in 2006 and Sarah Plain was nominated for VP in 2008. I'll give a slightly longer answer with a more historical perspective, focusing on what I feel was the watershed event that led us to our current, dysfunctional political reality:

I suspect that the decline of the political process in this country can probably be traced back to George Herbert Walker Bush's defeat in the 1992 elections, not so much the fact of his defeat as the interpretation that was attached to it. This was widely interpreted as Republican voter backlash for Bush's broken pledge not to raise taxes. Bush did so, of course, because he saw looming catastrophic debt on the horizon if revenues weren't raised to tame the budget deficit. Nonetheless, Republican politcians got the message their core constituency was sending: don't raise taxes or we'll vote you out of office. This is the point at which the GOP adpoted a strategy of simply denying reality when it didn't suit their narrative. George H.W. Bush lost his job by being honest and doing something that was necessary but unpopular. The GOP resolved to not repeat that mistake. To justify the anti-tax stance demanded by their core voters while pretending to care about our mounting national debt, the GOP adopted the dogma that reductions in tax rates always pay for themsleves by fueling economic expansion. This is patently untrue, as any honest assesment of the data will show, but you'll never see a GOP pol on T.V. assert otherwise. From here on out the GOP became a party where ideology always trumps pragmatism. Meanwhile, the rise of Fox News gave the GOP a popular outlet in which to promote an alternative narrative of events that was completely divorced from reality. And so taxes must be lowered to pay off the debt, waterboarding is no longer torture, global warming is a hoax, or at the very least a subject of scientific dispute, and illegal immigration is the single greatest threat to our nation after Al Quaeda. It's what Sullivan and other heretical conservatives have been calling "epistemic closure," and I'd say that it's the greatest threat to our national unity since the Civil War. If you and I can longer agree on the basic facts underlying our national predicament, how are we supposed to work together, to compromise in order to find a solution? When both parties are inhabiting the same epistemic universe, you can reduce the national debt by reaching a compromise where you raise taxes more than the GOP would like and cut spending more than the Democrats would like. But what happens when one party holds to the dogma that raising taxes will counteract the spending cuts, so the only effective solution is spending cuts and tax cuts? No compromise is possible then, and the system begins to break down.

1 comment:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'd go back to the election of Ronald Wilson Reagan (666).

I believe that's where you will find the Republican party actively harming the country in the service of advancing its partisan interests.