Political Theater

One aspect of my geekdom is that I am an avowed political geek.  Probably why I pursued yet another degree in Political Science.  I lost my position as an AP Gov/Civics teacher about 15 months ago and since then, though I’ve been able to do some teaching in temporary positions, I have engaged in what I like to call “spitting in the wind political analysis.”  One topic I can’t help but revisit is politics and all things surrounding the human behavior that creates our political climate.  So on this first day of the 2012 Convention Season (2 of the most ridiculous weeks of a general campaign – though the balloon manufacturers probably love them), just a few thoughts on the current condition of our democracy.  (excuse me if I tend to get a little teacher-y).

Some very well-versed experts have already declared our government at a worse standstill than has been seen in the short history of this republic.  In April, two of those very well regarding experts, Norm Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, just came right out and declared:  Let’s just Say it: The Republicans are the Problem.  It’s a very easy diagnosis:

     The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

The media of course have a role in perpetuating the quagmire by insisting that “both sides do it” or that there is some sort of equal intransigence that exists.  But the facts speak for themselves.  The extremism of the GOP has led to a debate that is so far to the right that the concepts of civic virtue and participatory democracy only manage to come up for air disguised under an oily veneer of “individual rights” — that elusive prize of which both parties declare themselves the Great Protectors.  The Democratic Party underwent a cataclysmic change in the 1960’s due in no small part to the courage of LBJ — not because Ol’ Lyndon was a courageous trend setter bent on changing the times.  No, because Ol’ Lyndon was courageous enough to see that he had been wrong and that resistance to equality was futile.  But with that cataclysmic change, the Democratic Party allowed itself to put the provision of the state and protection of equality above it’s own organizing efforts. Meanwhile, the GOP hunkered down and planned for a new day.

Forty years later, we have two parties which in some ways are mere echoes of each other (see: Bank Theft of the Middle Class), but in other ways are simply spectres fighting sword battles over issues that should have long since dissolved into the ether of our naturally progressing culture.  That in 2012, we are arguing about whether women have a right to choose contraception (much less be forced to undergo invasive and shaming procedures), we are arguing whether kids should get help with their student loans or seniors should have access to Medicare in 10 years (and not just vouchers), we are arguing whether any American DESERVES health care if they need it, we are arguing about whether BLACK PEOPLE SHOULD VOTE?!?!…. Almighty Rassilon’s Knees, America.  This all evolves out of this extreme, unyeilding, undemocratic reactionary right in the GOP.

The perils of the two-party system show us that when a party becomes so ideologically driven that the actual practice of democracy comes in a distant straggler to the priorities of ideological purity, witch hunting, and private domination of the commons, then the other party really has little ability to swing conditions back on its own.   And the GOP is pretty far gone.

And Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the Truthout Web site.

As the blue dog Democrats that came into the House along with the TeaParty wave are now being redistricted out by those very same TeaParty radicals, there is very little that the government itself, much less the Democratic Party, will be able to do if the GOP is not somehow ushered out of power in a very big way.  But who can do that?  Oh, wait a minute!  That’s OUR job!  If there ever were a time when voters needed the drive to show up and actually do what they are supposed to do in order to preserve democracy, 2012 is it.  Underneath all the streamers and balloons, ridiculous rhetoric and searingly boring commentary, these conventions remind me that the pomp and circumstance of theatrical politics will NEVER have the same power as the combined votes of very determined Americans.  And Mann and Ornstein have a final entreaty to the press, which I would echo:

     We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

I won’t be watching much of the conventions this year.  For the first time in my political geekdom, I am truly cynical about the possibilities for a functioning government that lay ahead.  For me, that cynicism only channels itself into more activism – and a determination to vote in a way that will hopefully alter how the Congress works.  Unfortunately, I am not sure that most Americans even care that much.  And so in the end, it won’t even matter how batshit crazy the GOP gets or how corporate-centered the Dems become, because there won’t be enough citizens out there who care enough to use the power they actually have to change the conditions under which these parties are able to function.



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