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Misdiagnosing the Problem

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Everyone is starting to come around to the fact that there is something very wrong with our political system. Most of the attention has been focused on the Senate, although people disagree whether it's the Senate's rules themselves or the fact that the rules are no longer appropriate in our more polarized political era. Seib and Bayh think that we should try to reduce polarization (although they accept that the rules are broken), while Klein and Chait think that we should just accept polarization and move on with our lives. But I think they all risk missing the real problem.

The real problem isn't the Senate. We've always had the Senate and its silly rules and malapportionment.

It's not the campaign finance system - we've had lots of corruption in the past.

In fact, it's not our institutions at all, institutions that have been roughly the same since 1789.

But unlike Seib and Bayh, I also don't think the real problem is party polarization - such polarization is common in U.S. history (it's the postwar depolarization that was weird).

No, I think the problem is really much simpler, but also more intractable. It's this: the Republicans have gone stark raving insane. No I'm serious. They're certifiable. I mean, have you really thought about the beliefs that are mainstream in the party now? The Party has become a poisonous stew of delusion marinated in corruption. They are immune to reason or humanity and anyone who believes they are willing to compromise their mad visions will end up only paving their way to power.

Whether the leadership of the Republican party are true believers, manipulating their base, or are just afraid to step out of line is immaterial. For the first time since the Civil War one of America's two great political parties has been taken over by madmen. The Republican Party was founded to stop the secessionists that had taken over the old Jacksonian Democratic Party from destroying the country. Now the same Republican Party is falling prey to the same disease.

The Republican Party now IS the conservative movement.Call them teabaggers or wingnuts - it's all the same. Don't talk to me about "moderate" Republicans, or "pragmatic" conservatives. There aren't any - they've either been cowed or destroyed.

And just to dispense with the false equivalence, I think everyone should be aware that the Democrats remain what they have always been - an uneasy coalition of competing out-groups who will accept as allies whoever is willing to adopt the label. The idea that liberals dominate the party - when liberals have gotten precisely nothing out of the large Democratic majorities in Congress - is absurd. Today's Democratic Party is in fact far, far more moderate than the party we saw even twenty years ago. And besides, liberals love nothing more than arguing about public policy. We like science. We like evidence. We adore reasoned discussion about public ends. Liberals simply aren't that dangerous to anyone, unlike the current crew, white nationalists intent on reshaping America into some bizarro-world Norman Rockwell painting, only this time with grandma packing a pistol.

So we have two parties: one that has been subsumed body and soul by a profoundly authoritarian, chauvinistic, screaming clique of fanatics. And the other that is so riven by internal squabbling, so unwilling to come to grips with the crises facing the country, so lacking in nerve, that no majority - however large - would ever be enough. The analogy seems clear enough to me. If the Republicans are today's Calhounists, the Democrats are the Whigs.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:44 AM

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Reading Historical Fiction

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A large proportion of the books I own are non-fiction - biographies and histories. I have pretty specific areas of interest, one of them being the classical period, in particular the Roman Republic. One would think that I would also like reading historical fiction, but after trying and failing to read Margaret George's Memoirs of Cleopatra I have to admit that I don't. The writing wasn't that bad, but when you know about every single event in the narrative already, it deprives the story of most of its interest. It really doesn't allow much suspense when you're reading a book and thinking to yourself "And then this will happen" every three pages and be right about it. In the future I'm going to restrict my historical fiction reading to a) periods I don't know much about and b) where famous figures are not the main characters.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:58 AM

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Superbowl Misogyny

Monday, February 08, 2010
Wow. I mean, wow. I haven't watched a Superbowl in years, but I don't recall the ads being so systematically anti-feminist. Girls in bikinis, sure, but this was a little over the top. It was all "be a man, don't let her tell you what to do!" Maybe I'm just more sensitized about feminism now due to BH's influence, but if that's so then my previous attitudes were much more appalling than I thought.

Am I overreacting to the Superbowl ads this year or where they really this egregious? Are they always like this, or was this year particularly offensive? Did any of you have the same impression?
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:52 AM

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Thoughts on Washington

Friday, February 05, 2010
Red cheeks above wry smiles, white collars above dark coats, so busy, so entitled, privileged with promised secrets, standing in lines at the airport or at the subway, the only animation one could see was over beers in dark bars a few steps from the capitol (when they forget themselves for a second), every conversation held with both parties darting over one another’s shoulders, checking blackberries, checking cellphones, waiting for someone more important. Vacant expressions, old men with people huddled around them, waiting for the elevator or the taxi or the next meeting. I hate the place. For me it was the memory of futility, or missed opportunities (or reality maybe), only long nights and lonely weekends, trying to forget where I was and what I wasn’t doing, what I had thought I should be doing. Now, years later, all I can see are all the young faces, and I grieve for them and for me. The only thing beautiful in Washington are its monuments. The people – not the natives, but the occupying army of politicians, lobbyists, hangers-on and wannabes – the people would be forgettable, pitiable even, if they weren’t doing so much damage.

Oh look, there’s a Senator, there’s another one, running to catch their plane. It must be a Thursday, they always head home on Thursday. They’re all older than they look on TV. I say hello, get a nod as they try to figure out whether they know me – they don’t but it’s a fun game. I haven’t changed a bit. I still try to get their attention. To me they were always the only celebrities that mattered.

Washington is a place of frustrated ambitions, the only question is when. Never getting the job on the hill. Never getting promoted. Getting burned out and disillusioned. Getting the chance to run, losing, winning but only going so far. You don’t change the world, and the world changes you a lot less than you might have thought. You’re just another name, no matter what title is on your business card or how many people you have around you telling you how important you are. You know the truth, although you might hate to admit it.

The thing I can’t forgive is how they always react to passion, even now. You get confused looks or condescension. Must not know the score, you can see them thinking. And what I’m thinking is how many boys and girls like that I’ve seen come and go. They never last, and you wait for another one to come along who realizes that getting angry about things is the only way to remain a number of the species. Go home, I think. You’ve got to be an asshole and an idealist at the same time or you’ll never make it. It’s a trick to hold those things in your mind at the same time. I can only do it because I do this stuff for free. Accept a paycheck and they own you, especially nowadays.

I see the security that wasn’t there when I lived here a dozen years ago and think how afraid everyone is, beaten already, too scared to try, the ones that seem strong only grasping for (personal) advantage a little faster, a little more eagerly. I have a flash, a moment when I can see all the white buildings empty, the streets abandoned, weeds instead of carefully manicured lawns, broken glass in the windows. Someday this will all be gone, the people who lived here not even memories, all that striving pointless, a failed experiment.

And then it’s back to normal, all bustle and pomposity, and I admit that the odds that I’ll be back again, that the sheer gravity of the place will pull me back, approach certainty. It’s the only game worth playing, I think. I can’t wait to get home, holding off the day a little longer.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 6:27 PM

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