June 26, 2011
Sticking with your own kind
By Bill Kraus
In his new book David Brooks comments on the state of politics thusly:
“Once politics became a contest pitting one identity group against another, it was no longer possible to compromise. Everything became a status war between my kind of people and your kind of people. Even a small concession came to seem like moral capitulation.
“Politics was no longer about trade, it was a contest for honor and group supremacy. Amidst this partisan ugliness, public trust in government and political institutions collapsed.”
This puts him in the group I described recently as the people who feel the same way about the loss of good feeling and the dismissal of compromise and anyone who seeks to practice it.
Neither Brooks nor any of the lamenters I have heard from have gone beyond the diagnosis to the remedy.
Those of us who look wistfully at the “good old days” are regarded as relics. I concede the point that the good old days were perhaps more old than good, but I still think they were better than what has evolved in our seriously polarized world.
The reform organizations offer up a long series of proposals that would give politics back to the politicians and begin to dismantle the beholdenism that is a feature of this era of non-stop, money driven campaigning. These go mostly nowhere and are mostly evidence that the reformers are playing with white chips in a blue chip game.
The rebellious newcomers in general, those who spring from or identify with the so called tea party movement prove to be less rebellious than expected and more narrowly focused. The tea party, it would appear, is not so much anti-establishment as it is anti-tax and anti-regulation.
The legislative leaders who continue to rule without serious opposition in their caucus-driven system are all powerful. They have tamed the newcomers and continue to brush off everyone who disagrees with them or their tactics. If you are not on their team, you may as well go home and play golf. You do not count. They are not a route to reform or compromise or civility or any of the other behavior that was a part of the government-that-works construct that the dominant moderates from both sides of the aisle created and protected for my long life in and around politics.
My suspicion is that the people who are complaining loudest about polarization are really more unhappy about being in the minority than they are about the lack of compromise. What they want is the power to be uncompromising themselves. I would be pleased to be proved wrong about this.
One de-polarizing proposal that has surfaced is the creation of a third party for those of us who still believe that the government has a legitimate role to play in our society, even though we may not be in total agreement on the size and extent of that role.
What this risks, of course, is the kind of dysfunction on view in other places in the world, where a small minority third party is really the majority party because neither of the larger parties can muster a majority without it.
My own proposal is more personal, less grandiose. It starts with talking to instead of screaming at each other.
For the longer term the solution, as always, lies with the people. We get the government we deserve, because we are the ones who choose our representatives. Votes count. Elections count. Choose well. It’s important.
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Sit down with a mixed bag of friends sometime to watch Monday night football... Take the Pack vs the Bears, for example. Everyone picks sides and it's us against them all the way, even to the beers we drink. Whichever team wins, never lets the losers forget.
When did we become such a divided, competitive, all-or-none kind of people? Sometimes wonder if our fanaticism with professional sports hasn't turned us into what we are today. Add the talking heads of ESPN or Fox, the opinions, the theories, etc, and it seems there is no way out.
This nation of ours responds to just about every situation with either menacing rhetoric or military might. The purveyors of fear motivate the thoughtless masses to go for the jugular instead of using reason and tact to settle differences. The more we seem to move forward, the more backwards we have really become.
We have no politicians anymore, only bullies who may claim to listen but predictably fail to hear.
-Maria Caliente | Middleton, Wisc | June 26, 2011
Once again, Bill, I think you're a little late with the handwringing and the plea "Can't we all just get along?"
Mark me down as one who has little appetite for compromise (or David Brooks, for that matter!) when I am under assault in this ongoing class war launched against me and my friends and neighbors. How silly it is to now plea for a reasoned response after Walker and the Kochs and ALEC and their cowardly appeasers (Yes, I'm talking about YOU, Repub Legislators who know better!) have ratcheted up the attacks and the over-the-top giveaways to the wealthy and the corporate clients.
Class War ain't for the faint of heart. But looking around at the actions of your Republican colleagues, I'd dare say it's all we've got. Count me in!
-Jeff Pieterick | Waterloo, WI | June 26, 2011