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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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