Sunday, November 13, 2005

The New Friedman Column

Is a good one. Friedman talks about the impotence of the American political system and suggests some of the reasons for it. Sadly, Viagra will not fix this performance problem:

Why is this happening? Clearly, the way voting districts have been gerrymandered in America, thanks to the Voting Rights Act and Tom DeLay-like political manipulations, is a big part of the problem. As a result of this gerrymandering, only a small fraction of the seats in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures are really contested anymore. Therefore, few candidates have to build cross-party coalitions around the middle.

Most seats are now reserved for one party or the other. And when that happens, it means that in each of these districts the real election is the primary, where Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. And when that happens, it produces candidates who appeal only to their party's base - so we end up with a Congress paralyzed between the far left and far right.

Add to this the fragmentation of the media, with the rising power of bloggers and podcasters, and the decline in authority of traditional centrist institutions - including this newspaper - and you have what the Foreign Policy magazine editor Moisés Naím rightly calls "the age of diffusion."

"Show me a democratically elected government today anywhere in the world with a popular mandate rooted in a landslide victory - there aren't many," said Mr. Naím, whose smart new book, "Illicit," is an absolute must-read about how small illicit players, using the tools of globalization, are now able to act very big on the world stage, weakening nations and the power of executives across the globe. "Everywhere you look in this age of diffusion, you see these veto centers emerging, which can derail, contain or stop any initiative. That is why so few governments today are able to generate a strong unifying mandate."

I agree in principle, except that the far left has been totally shut out of any political decision-making in this country. The far right has simultaneously become the mainstream right. This slip explains why people who are totally moderate goddesses get attacked for commie-pinko stuff. It isn't as much a slip in the actual opinions of voters towards the wingnut right as a media reframing of what constitutes an extreme opinion. Nowadays the flat-earthers would get their own talk-show on television, but people who advocate socialized medicine are seen as terrorists.

The reference to the rising powers of bloggers is a curious one. Are bloggers really becoming that much more powerful (I wish, of course) or is it, rather, that mainstream journalists have become too concerned with what the administration might do to them, too conciliatory, too ready to accept the "he-said-she-said" mode as neutrality, even when everybody knows that one side has all the facts?

The fact is that a very small minority of citizens reads blogs. Just ask your friends and family if they know what a blog is and you will find that most of them have never heard of it. - No, I don't believe that blogs were leading the divisiveness that Friedman writes about. It was there before, in the newspapers that people chose to read and even more clearly in the birth and success of Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads or the Fox News. Large numbers of Americans chose to tune out those news that they disliked as well as those opinions they hated. Separate worlds, even before the introduction of the right and left blogospheres.

This is not good for the country, but I can't see any immediate solution, partly for the reasons that Friedman mentions and partly for the simple reason that the wingnuts are waging a war against the other Americans. I have been called worse than a terrorist for being a liberal. Which is a really sad commentary on the political debate of this country.