Sunday, June 14, 2009

Richard Dawkins on Human History - "High Noon for the Republican Party"

I am deeply in love with Richard Dawkins whom I consider my mentor and guiding light (and he's really cute and witty). Whenever I get depressed over the events that currently govern our economic and political lives (and the evidence of our rule by barbarians) I think of his calm, rational voice as he explains evolution and natural selection - and how long bacteria ruled the world (which tells me everything that I need to know in order to carry on). He explicates the vastness of geological time and our place in it in this video. It's not but a few minutes long. Watch it. I guarantee that you will enjoy it. Harpers Magazine has done us a service by publishing an essay by Kevin Baker, Kevin P. Phillips, Luke Mitchell, Scott McConnell and Thomas F. Schaller on why it should be "High Noon for the Republican Party" and "Why the GOP Must Die" like all the dinosaurs and bacteria before them. Although it's not comedy, I could not help smiling throughout. (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

George Washington, the United States’ first and last unaffiliated president, warned that political parties, should they take root in the new republic, would make government “the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans.” Parties sprang up immediately, of course, but for many years they were short-lived, forming and collapsing according to a natural life cycle. No longer. Our current two-party system has become a shadow constitution, based largely on a system of legal bribery, that makes a mockery of the founders’ republican intentions.

Increasingly it seems that the political parties themselves are among the greatest obstacles to civic renewal. Eight years of Republican rule have led to economic chaos, ruinous war, and unprecedented despair. Every electoral indicator points to a massive defeat. Yet few believe that the Democratic Party possesses the strength of purpose to drive the Republicans into the well-deserved oblivion of the Anti-Masons and the Know-Nothings. Mindful of the Democrats’ shortcomings, Harper’s Magazine gathered together a panel of political thinkers to consider how the deed might be accomplished, and what might be the consequences of failure.

1. Deadlock

LUKE MITCHELL: We seem today to be involved in a kind of trench war, in which the two sides battle in election after election over just a few inches of ground — say, Ohio and Florida — with no real long-term results other than the further degradation of democracy. How did we reach this impasse?

KEVIN BAKER: Well, obviously the two-party system has always had problems. The founders thought the entire notion of having political parties was a bad idea, at least at first. They worried that parties would come to care more about themselves than the state, maybe even invite other countries in, other kings in.

SCOTT MCCONNELL: Unfortunately, it’s not easy to run a republic without some kind of party system. It’s inevitable that a nation is going to have different class and sectional interests, and parties allow those factions to channel their disagreements relatively peacefully. This is especially true in a democracy that is, at least in theory, answerable to large groups of people.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The problem today, though, is entrenchment and atrophy. The Democrats and the Republicans are now among the oldest parties in the world. Their origins bear no relation to much of anything today, and as a result they are mostly interested in the people who give them money.

MITCHELL: Is that a new development?

PHILLIPS: Being interested in people who give you money? No! That goes way back. But the entrenchment you couldn’t do until you had a mass electorate, a large and venal Washington, wall-to-wall lobbies, and all of the other things that make the current party system tick.

THOMAS SCHALLER: The founders’ expectation was that regions would nominate many candidates, each representing very parochial interests. They expected such a glut of sectional parties that they created the electoral college—not in order to make any kind of final selection but simply to winnow the choices down to a couple of finalists. They assumed the election would be thrown to the House of Representatives, with the result that an elite institution would pick the ultimate winner. But in fact the system has been funded and redistricted and gerrymandered into a sort of muscle-bound duopoly. It’s nonresponsive. It’s like the difference between punching me in the stomach and punching George Foreman in the stomach. You can knock me over pretty easily, whereas George Foreman is going to laugh it off.

PHILLIPS: Well, the public showed that it can produce a significant swing in 2006, in electoral terms. But the issues on which they supposedly voted are not being addressed. How do you vote to get everybody out of Iraq, for example? Vote for the Democrats? That hasn’t worked so far.

MCCONNELL: And it cuts both ways. The people who have been voting Republican for the past thirty years on cultural rather than class issues — i.e., culturally conservative Reagan Democrats — have gotten nothing for their votes either. But there is no evidence whatsoever that they are going to stop voting Republican.

BAKER: It’s like you have this weird inversion of Tammany. They don’t get you out of jail, they don’t give you a turkey at Christmas, they don’t do anything for you, and yet somehow they keep winning.

SCHALLER: The irony is that today the government has far more power than in the past. It is a much larger part of the economy, and so when it moves a lever, it can expect a dramatic effect.

PHILLIPS: And yet people increasingly seem to believe that their votes don’t matter, that these parties aren’t any different from each other. It’s all just a big game. Democrats are the not-Republicans and Republicans are the not-Democrats. And if None of the Above could be on the ballot, it would scare the bejesus out of everybody. What a choice that would be!

BAKER: The situation is not unique to the United States either. In Italy, the 2006 election was a near stalemate, at least in terms of votes, and within a couple of years Silvio Berlusconi was back in power. The French socialists actually fell out of the top two in the 2002 election, and Nicolas Sarkozy, another conservative, shows up in 2007, also for a win. I think this has to do with a strange global capital consensus whereby the elites of all of the controlling parties have accepted what they feel are the limits of globalization, which will inevitably drive down wages and realign all kinds of economic forces. This consensus creates a huge disassociation between what is being promised and what is being delivered, and that really frustrates people. Why vote for the left when even they don’t believe in liberalism?

I could leave this discussion at that last sentence (and please read the rest of the essay here), but thought you might enjoy Dawkins' reception in Oklahoma and his gift back to them (and the (hilarious) discussion of "diversity of thinking"). Enjoy your Sunday! Suzan ________________

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