Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Everything is a Culture War

Dave Weigel continues his invaluable constituent interviews during the waning days of the this cycle's Republican nomination contest. The latest I have read is from the Nevada caucuses, which took place back in early February. The news itself is a bit old, but the constituent's quote is pertinent my contention on the 'culturalization' of political debates.

Kent, an escavator from Virginia City, Nev. explains his views on partisanship:
"This is going to sound rough," he said. "But if you're a Democrat, you are my enemy. Democrats piss me off. They've gotten extremely socialistic." What did that mean? "Every time they get in, they raise taxes. They screw things up. I've got a jeep I've had for ten years; I pay $100 a year on the license plate. We just got a new Dodge; $600 to license it. You pay your money, they pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people. Free education, handouts, all of that." (emphasis mine - JMG)
I want to link this back to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's earlier comments about how we are turning into a nation of "people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check," and how a lot of economic policy questions are being transmogrified into morality plays of how the 'government' poses a threat to concepts of 'independence' or 'virtue'. Once you start examining these kind of statements through the perspective of economic theory or social policy, you start to see how devoid of substance these kind of sentiments are. But a lot or people do not care to consider viewpoints of economic theory or social policy for all kinds of reasons. (If I had to guess the probable causes, I would suggest lack of technical understanding or a need for worldview that eliminates ambiguity.)

Now, a lot of people (myself included) complain about the lack of good faith in debates between our ideologically opposed representatives. A lot of people, myself excluded, diagnose the problem as an issue of party-driven polarization. Well, that is not quote right. I do agree that there is an issue of party-driven polarization, but I find that the drivers of party polarization are party participants and constituents like Kent and Gov. Christie. Representatives are less and less amiable to 'bi-partisanship' because the people they represent are less 'bi-partisan'.

Now, if you are frustrated with the way things are right now via-a-vis partisanship and gridlock (and I think you should be), then the first thing I think you should focus on attacking, is this idea that all policy disagreements can fundamentally be explained as 'us' against the 'enemy'. I think this goes for both camps, but I certainly do not think there exists an equivalence in degree or severity. Especially since Barack Obama has been president, conservative constituents and party actors have seemed more than comfortable to resorting to more and more brazen appeals to paranoia and 'otherness' as a tool to gain political advantage.

So I think I understand why people like Kent from Nevada feel that Democrats "raise taxes" and "pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people", but I do not think that 'partisanship' any real excuse for statements like that. If anything, I find it all the more to be an indictment against the conservative opposition to progressive tax policy or a robust social safety net.

No comments:

Post a Comment