Wanna get angry this fine morning? Then you should definitely read this. I’ve long been skeptical that the Aspen Ideas Festival is anything more than a circle-jerk for the pundit set. What this article exposes is how lazy the thinking is among our public intellectuals, indeed it seems as though some of them haven’t had a new thought since 1996. Some tidbits:
“We need a third party. I am for a third party,” [Tom] Friedman said to applause. “We are trapped in a corrupt duopoly. [...] One thing about the Internet and the hyperconnected world—it has flattened every hierarchy in the world from The New York Times to the banking industry. It’s flattened every hierarchy in the world except the two-party system, and that will not remain. That is a prediction that I will make.”
Nice way to slip in an allusion to your middlebrow bestseller. Here’s a prediction I will make: in fifty years, we’ll still have a GOP and a Democratic Party. Will they look and act the same as they do now? No. But two parties is the norm for first-past-the-post electoral systems. Now, if we were to adopt a different system, we might get different results. But I doubt it will happen. And Tom Friedman? This is the guy who coined the Friedman Unit, arguably the dumbest concept of the past ten years in foreign affairs, and that’s no small feat. Since when is he an authority on anything? I trust Kinky Friedman more than that guy.
What’s interesting about Avlon’s article is that it hits all the normal Beltway independent G-spots, but it does so while ignoring the rather obvious counterarguments that have been circulating in the blogosphere for years. Take this one: “In May, the Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans support the creation of a third party, including 68 percent of independent voters.” This is true, but also irrelevant (and, incidentally, down from 74% in 2007). Of course some people would prefer a centrist third party. We call them Washington elites. But it’s far more likely that a third party would look a lot more like Jean-Marie Le Pen’s French National Front than anything John Avlon would like, economically left-wing and socially conservative. Indeed, that was the basic concept behind Ross Perot’s protest candidacy in 1992, the only meaningful modern third-party candidacy that wasn’t explicitly racist, as well as Pat Buchanan’s challenge to George H. W. Bush earlier that year. Perot is bizarrely implied to have been a libertarian candidate, presumably because of his pro-choice stance, but it’s important to remember that in 1992 pro-choice conservative Republicans could occasionally win elections to state and even federal office, like Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Paul Coverdell of Georgia did that very year. The issue did not have the stranglehold status within the GOP that it does now. Perot’s main campaign theme in 1992 was economic protectionism, which is as antilibertarian as you can get. Basically, in this country as in France, populism is the only viable route for a third party.
And that’s not it. Want some “one the one hand, on the other hand” equivocation, suggesting that the two parties are equivalent? You got it:
The two parties are more polarized that at any time in our modern history—more ideologically and geographically stratified. Demonizing people who disagree with you has become standard-operating procedure, as RINO and DINO hunting proliferate in closed partisan primaries. Policy debates have been hijacked by special interests. All or nothing has become the negotiation position of choice.
This is extremely irritating. There were tons of primaries against Republicans for being insufficiently conservative last year, even though their records were hardly moderate. Rep. Bob Inglis and Sen. Bob Bennett were tossed because they merely admitted that climate change and health care were problems. Mike Castle actually was a moderate, but he was turned away in favor of an insane woman who spent much of her campaign talking about witchcraft. There are so many more. Meanwhile, the only significant Democratic primaries of the last cycle was Mark Halter’s challenge to Blanche Lincoln and Joe Sestak’s challenge to Arlen Specter, in which ideology was mostly irrelevant, injected into the former by netroots activists over residual public option bitterness. Not even close to equal, and only a Washingtonian could implicitly find the hysterical, often racial criticism of Barack Obama and the entirely policy-based criticism of Paul Ryan as equivalent.
And, finally, for the antilogical kicker, as to why lawmakers just can’t get along:
[B]ecause of the disproportionate influence of special interests like the religious right and public-sector unions, the two parties cannot meet this market demand. They are polarized and paralyzed—incapable of reasoning together to solve long-term problems, absent a crisis.
Is this all you got? Yeah, isn’t it such a barnburner when the religious right and public employee unions go at it? Really, this is so damn pathetic that I shouldn’t even waste my time on such an ignorant and ridiculous argument. But I will because, well, calling out stupidity is important, and I have nothing better to do right now. This guy is trying so hard to fit into the bipartisan mold that he’s just writing stupid garbage to try to blame both parties equally, when really only one is to blame. Ask yourself this question: if not for the religious right, would the GOP be more reasonable on taxes and the like? Unlikely, since Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer are quite a bit more economically liberal than other Republicans, though increasingly there’s less and less of a difference. I can’t believe Avlon is going to make me defend the religious right, which just makes me crazy, but here goes. Really, all Avlon is doing here is exposing his prejudices. Beltway types really hate the religious right, so making them an example of Why American Democracy Doesn’t Work is easy enough. Of course, why the religious right is so uniquely horrible is unstated, and their deleterious effect is apparently so self-evident that it need not even be articulated. Surely they’re more responsible for the sorry state of affairs than, say, FOX News, conservative talk radio, and cynical politicians like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, let alone an anemic news media that will not (or cannot) report on the substance of events, right? Idiot. Similarly, the mechanism by which public sector unions contribute to the decline of our debate is not apparent to me. They are so powerful that Barack Obama froze public sector pay earlier this year. He did so not as part of a deal to avoid a shutdown or bring down the deficit, but unilaterally, in a purely symbolic display. Which he had to know would do nothing to alter the debate. That is the power of the public-sector union in America today. But Avlon knows that they’re the bad guys du jour in D.C. circles, so why let something pesky like ELEMENTARY LOGIC get in the way of his Village Application Form.
I’ve heard it said that, between honesty, intelligence and total belief in all the doctrines, Republicans can have any two of these, but not all three. Such is usually the case with hard-line ideology. But in comparison with Villager Ideology, hard-right conservatism looks positively robust and healthy, as Avlon is struggling to achieve even one of the three here. It’s sort of amazing to me, but the ideology of bipartisanship is in much worse shape than the ideology of the hard-right Republicans, if this article is any indication. I’m less than impressed by calls for a third party, or vitriolic screeds against how politicians are all awful, simply because they’re cop-outs to fix the real problems in our political system. Parties and politicians are not the problem here. Even someone as bad as McConnell isn’t the problem, really, since a better-functioning system wouldn’t let him get away with what he does. It’s the system that’s broken, but it’s broken in ways that are uncomfortable to Avlon and his paymasters, so the comfortable targets are attacked instead.
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