Friday, February 18, 2011

Arianna Huffington Crosses the Aisle to Join David Brooks in Some Bi-Partisan Bashing of the Two Party System

Arianna Huffington has a post on a recent debate in which she joined with conservative David Brooks to defend the proposition that "the two-party system is making America ungovernable" against Zev Chafets and P. J. O'Rourke. What struck me is how gracious Arianna is when talking about the event and the issue being debated, both to a conservative like Brooks and to her opponents; the piece is worth it just for her tone, regardless of content. Perhaps this has something to do with being paired with Brooks, a writer whose chief strength is, following in the tradition of William F. Buckely, in being the gentleman conservative; the sort of conservative that liberals might disagree with, but cannot help respect.

Huffington argues that: 

It [the two-party system] has ossified to the point where it can only deliver short-term fixes. It has led to entrenched thinking, complacency, and the deification of conventional wisdom -- all conditions that have made it harder and harder to challenge a broken status quo.

And the two-party system has not just narrowed our choices, it's narrowed our thinking. It has deeply infected our political discourse, our media, and our politicians. To paraphrase Einstein, the problems we are facing today cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.

The hunger for change is evident on both sides of the political spectrum -- from the meteoric rise to power of an outsider candidate like Barack Obama to the lightning in a bottle creation of the Tea Party -- both the result of grassroots, anti-establishment movements. The American people clearly want alternatives.

On practically every level, potential nominees in each party are running away from the establishment label and desperately trying to show their independence from the establishment wings of the two parties that are held in such low esteem.

And the Internet and social media are making the shakeup of the two parties much more likely, with young people less and less aligned with large, established institutions -- and more empowered than ever to connect with each other and cut through the spin perpetrated by politicians and special interests.

I would like to voice my respectful and courteous disagreement, precisely in that, as I see it, it is the two-party system that allows for the thin veneer of political civility we possess. If, as I have argued previously, politics is a means of negotiating as an alternative to violence. The value of politics is therefore less in any specific agreements that may be reached but in the fact that all parties have committed themselves to this process and not to violence.

The virtue of our two-party system is that it forces everyone involved to the political center. Get past the political rhetoric and you will see that the two parties are fairly close to each other. Both parties are in principle committed to state guided capitalism, with private businesses and a welfare system designed to eliminate extreme poverty. Both parties support a large military that involves itself in foreign conflicts. Both parties accept that women are to be involved in the political and social sphere. I might not like all of these principles myself, but no one can operate within our political system without convincing voters that he holds to them. Now there are certainly very real disagreements between the parties, but as all involved see the other as accepting the same principles it becomes possible to create an ethos of compromise. In our legislative system there are few debates over principles; it is a matter of negotiating a dollar amount, how much you are going to regulate something and what kind of restrictions to put in place.

To be clear this is not to say that the actual policies put out by such a system are particularly good, often they are ridiculous. What is important here is that the various factions in our society are negotiating and not trying to force their will upon everyone else. It is very well that few people actually like how our two-party system operates and the sorts of solutions it comes up with. That being said, no one, barring the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and Aryan Nations,  is going to point blank reject the system.

Our political system does seem to be in crisis as the divide in our society seems to be widening and the rhetoric is being ratcheted up. More and more we are seeing an "us versus them" rhetoric, the logical consequences of which is violence. Some might blame the internet or talk radio. I blame the statist logic which both parties submit to. The more government interferes with people's lives and becomes the solution to problems the more people have reason to feel threatened by the government and see it as a foreign coercive force, which can only be met by going outside the system; a path whose logical conclusion is violence and the destruction of the political system.

If you wish for a respectful civilized political discourse then you may very well have no choice but to accept the two-party system with all of its very real flaws.                 



David Friedman said...

One possible reason why Arianna Huffington is polite to conservatives is that she used to be one; her first book, published long before she was married, was The Female Woman, a critique of feminism.

I met her at a meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, an organization of classical liberals/libertarians, a very long time ago.

Izgad said...

So you once met Arianna. What about David Brooks? I know he once served as your father’s “sidekick” on one of the roundtables for the Free to Choose series. (You introduced the school voucher episode.)
In other news, I saw that John Stossel did a piece on your son Patri and mentioned you as someone who does not support government at all. :)