17 May 2010

Reject The Entrenched Parties

One of the reasons I became involved in the Modern Whig Party was my reaction to the emotional base of our politics.

At the time of our founding, politics were based on a concern over promoting the common good. Using the Enlightenment values, problems were addressed by reason and analysis. The goal was to produce a rational response that would promote the liberty, property, and well-being of the greatest number. Long term solutions were promoted, and the short-term costs were accepted under the concept of enlightened self-interest. This system had its short-comings, notably when strong personal ambitions clashed (think Adams and Jefferson), but this period of politics also produced the "Era of Good Feeling" and the quieting of partisan rancor.

However, in the 19th century, this period came to a close. These new politics saw the rise of politics based on emotion, and campaigns based on symbolism. Rational policy debates receded. Interestingly, this era saw the founding and the rise of the Democratic Party, which continues to plague us to this day. Originated as an emotional-based political party, and to serve political bosses, the Democrats are the most successful political effort in American history.

The 19th century Whig Party was the last gasp of an attempt to base politics and policy on rational analysis and the common good. Interestingly, they had to use emotion-based rhetoric to counter that of the Democrats, and an age of partisanship began which has never ended.

Can this process be reversed? Can we again have politics based on dialogue, analysis, and the common good? Can we get away from emotional appeals, and develop a political party that promotes reason, freedom, science, and a free market? How about promoting egalitarianism by making an inclusive political process open to all?

Or are we doomed forever to a political process closed to those without big money backers? Are we stuck watching blowhards yell at each other on television while calling it a political debate? Are anger and vitriol here to stay?

Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows: public spirit and goodwill are buried beneath an unholy alliance of big money and moral posturing. Compromise, necessary in a nation as large and as varied as ours, becomes impossible. Unifying principles give way to passionate single-interest agitators. Meanwhile, effective politics has disappeared.

The demand of the screaming fringe for conflict without end with their partisan foes, shouting for supposed principles and "To Hell with the consequences!" has produced a generation of politicians whose only concern is short-term comfort. The disastrous long-term consequences of which are building to nothing less than an economic collapse. Doesn't the other side have principles as well? If you won't compromise yours, why should they compromise theirs?

Workable, equitable government demands alliances and compromise. But the entrenched parties promote economic insecurity and radicalism. Party activists hope to reap the whirlwind that they have sown.I want no more of those games. The excusing of the behavior of your partisans while lambasting those of the opponents. The fabricated outrage. The phony concern over the "regular guy."

America is a great country, that is superior to our benighted politicians. It is time for all of us to reject our entrenched parties, and work for something new.

1 comment:

Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

I'm not a historian, but my understanding of the Era of Good Feelings was that its immediate cause was the embarrassed collapse of the Federalist party following their plans for the northern states (where they were dominant) to sign a separate peace with the British to end the War of 1812, and that it continued because of the western expansion into the Louisiana purchase (why start your own political party, when you can just move west and start your own state?)

And emotional arguments had been part of our politics before, during, and after it all, with both parties (whichever they were at the various times) arguing that they were the ones who stood for the common good; and both have used intellectual arguments to "prove" the same. I mean, disagree if you must with Paul Krugman's policy conclusions, but you can't possibly claim he's not intellectual enough; and yes, he's an economist, not a politician, but the politicians of the past weren't, by and large, economist either. To the extent that they were intellectual, they often relied on the Krugman's of their day. Which is to say, you argument that debate used to be more intellectual and less emotional seems to be an emotional, not an intellectually-rigorous, argument (although I'd love to see a statistical analysis of the concentrations of emotion-laden verbiage in political literature now-vs.-then; I just haven't seen such a thing).

Besides, the old Whig party collapsed because of its inability to internally come to a consensus on the issue of slavery; an emotional, anger-filled failure of intellectual-debate if ever there was one. They were for modernization, protectionism, and a weak executive; perhaps that rings as "intellectual" (at least for the times) to you, but are you sure that's not just because it resonates with your own opinions?

None of which is a denouncement of your frustrations or a disagreement with your conclusions. Yes; get the big money out (fixcongressfirst.org). Yes; a better political process (rangevoting.org). Unfortunately, I don't have a url that can make people debate intelligently...