Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-election reflections

Thanks to a tip from a Twitter feed, I just read this piece by Molly Worthen in yesterday's NYT. She correctly (in my opinion) criticizes what passes for the Left in mainstream U.S. politics for avoiding serious discussion of the sources of economic inequality (while it embraces progressive stances on social issues). As Worthen says, the 2014 election was not about "nothing"; rather, it was about  a deliberate effort to avoid genuine debate: basic philosophical (ideological) differences and their connections to policy were largely bypassed. Thus the election [in my view, at any rate] was indeed about "something": namely, it was about the continuation of the degradation and trivialization of elections and the evacuation of substantive debate from politics.

These are not, of course, new features of U.S. politics. With one or two exceptions, politicians who hold national-level offices avoid frankly discussing the philosophical (i.e. ideological) roots of their positions. Instead, they speak in sound bites and code words, while pursuing agendas that appear on the surface to be ideologically neutral but actually are not. Thus, for instance, the current Democratic governor of Virginia goes on a 'trade mission' to Asia, trying to entice Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies to invest in his state, and in some cases succeeding (see Jenna Portnoy, "McAuliffe: Asia Trip Will Spur Deals, Spark Economy," Wash. Post, Oct. 23, 2014, p.B5 [print edition]). States vie with each other to see which can create the most "business-friendly" climate. But even in a 'business civilization' and a world dominated by those entities referred to by the cryptic phrase 'the markets', there are different ways to "solve problems," not just one supposedly neutral way.

Ever since the Democratic Party embraced an agenda of deregulation in the Carter administration and then proceeded to accommodate some of the key premises of Reaganism by moving further right in the 1990s, U.S. electoral politics has lacked the kind of real ideological debate that should be one of the distinguishing characteristics of a mature, well-functioning political system. Instead, U.S. electoral politics are dominated by code words and sound bites, while elite groups (i.e., corporations and their lobbyists) exercise what often amounts to a stranglehold on the making of policy. That Pres. Obama, while managing to achieve certain things, has not been able to alter these basic pathological features of U.S. politics and, to a large extent, has not even tried to do so, shows how deeply entrenched they are in the fabric of the country's warped, diseased political culture.

Added later: for a more upbeat assessment of various things, you can listen to the Pres.'s news conference of today.

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