Joseph Marie de Maistre said that “every country has the government it deserves.” That may be true, however I find that the United States does not deserve the level of idiocy, partisanship and sensationalism which has come to dominate the political landscape in the last 20 years. Does the United States have a serious education problem which – in my opinion – allows for this kind of governance? Yes. Is American politics in dire need of reform? Yes. Is this problem indicative of some underlying fundamental character flaw inherent in Americans? No.
The United States is a country defined by extremes. The same nation houses not only six of the top ten universities in the world, but is also home to a citizenry of which only 2/5 people know that government has three branches and can accurately name them. Obviously America offers opportunities and chances to become highly educated, however, historically there has been a trend of anti-intellectualism in the United States – one which has been virulent in its retardation (I use the term in its original sense) of political discourse and public political consciousness.
I maintain that knowledge and education is, now more than ever, the key defining factor for success – and whilst higher education, especially in the United States is very expensive – a library card is free. The education of the American populace is key to overturning the sensationalist and confrontational political culture in the United States of America.
To my knowledge there is no other industrialized / First World state that has only two political parties. When you only have two options to choose from, then by the process of elimination, the other guy has to stand for all that you don’t (or at least that is the reasoning some would lead you to believe). Sure, coalition governments are a pain and too many parties can cripple the political machinery of a state (i.e. Italy, Netherlands), but at least it means that one can find common ground, with party policies blending together in a nice blurry spectrum, allowing for and prompting multilateral cooperation.
The political spectrum in the United States is one which is rigidly defined and which is characterized by a red-blue divide that few attempt to bridge – often to come under heavy fire from both sides of the ravine. The US political system seems unable (or more importantly) unwilling to blend the two together – to find the purple middle ground. To me it seems as if the American political process is all on board with political parties during elections, yet would almost seem to prefer one party rule to push through party policies once in power.
Obviously all political parties in all countries would appreciate it if the opposition disappeared following an electoral victory. I am not naive enough to think that this is only the case in the States; however the political system in America seems to encourage unilateralism (ex. Republican filibustering and constant blocking in response to Obama’s bipartisan overtures.)
This brings me to President Obama and the political maelstrom he has had to endure since taking office. Say what you will about the President, the amount of flak that he has had to deal with highlights all that is wrong with the current political climate. The health care debate was more focused on fear-mongering than actual discussion. In no other nation on earth would you have such insipid opposition to universal healthcare. The fact that the United States is the richest country in the world and still does not offer universal health care and subsequently lets the poor die on the steps of hospitals for lack of cash is a sad one indeed. As someone who lives in both Europe and Canada, I: 1. take umbrage at Republican statements to the effect of, “we don’t want to end up like Canada or France” and 2. find the Republican and general public opposition to health care confounding.
American society is cursed with an over abundance of individualism. While I am a proponent of individualism and personal freedoms (pro-gay marriage, pro-choice etc.), the US is so obsessed with the notion that all anyone seems to think about is themselves. Garrett Hardin and the Tragedy of the Commons seems have been forgotten as libertarians compare taxation to slavery (Nozick), and everyone is too busy living their Mc-Life of vacant materialism and ramping up debt to care.
Notions of social justice and responsibility (social security, social safety net, health care etc.) which in most other nations would be generally accepted – in the US causes accusations of Communism and gets Glenn Beck totally riled up (I’d rather get no news than watch FOX – at least ignorance has no bias.) I don’t mean to pick on conservatives per se – for I have some conservative values – but I do mean to pick on the Republican Party. I have respect for the Republican party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, even parts of the Reagan administration – but not for the party of Cheney, Bush and Limbaugh.
The fear-mongering, evangelical, neo-conservatives who have taken over the Republican Party and have turned it into the joke that it is, partially initiated and ridden the wave of hype, punditry and partisanship which emerged in the early 1990s. The laughable antics and views of the Republican Party of today only highlights the pressing need for a third option, for otherwise voters will really only have one credible choice: the Democrats. While I like the Democrats, they are not perfect and I would rather see a centrist party in power or a coalition government in power if it meant effective multilateralism and consensus. A coalition government or centrist party who could adequately blend left and right would – in my opinion – find great support. It would also help counter the current system of a slim majority having to combat a dyspeptic minority (albeit a significant minority), resulting in stalemate.
Democracy is a slow, noisy and messy affair, but the cacophony emanating from Washington could be lessened somewhat if the government stopped bickering and opened the political playing field to a few more players.
Please excuse the rather aimless direction of this tirade as it is basically a stream of consciousness given voice on the Internet.
J.D. Luedi is a listener from Switzerland and contributing writer for Stimulatedboredom.com