To Remain Viable, Political Parties Require Internal Debate

Post-2016 tribalism has put defensiveness at the forefront of politics. Particularly on the right, Reagan’s 11th Commandment—don’t insult members of your own party—has always held sway, but the Trump cult of personality has put such thinking into overdrive. One cannot criticize the president on any grounds without being harangued, dragged over the coals and called any number of rude names you’d be loathe to repeat in front of your mother. The 11th Commandment has long…

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The Missing Element of Political Reform Debates

Political reform, whether it favors sweeping institutional overhauls or looks to fixes tailored towards more narrow problems, operates under the assumption that government dysfunction ultimately stems from some flaw within government. This statement might seem blatantly tautological, but in fact it reflects a deeper problem with American politics: a fundamental misunderstanding of the complex role of the polity in structuring and directing the machinations of government institutions. Though “democracy” is likely the first word that…

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Is efficacy a laudable political virtue?

Given the place of preeminence the pursuit of happiness holds in American culture, it is perhaps not surprising that contentment seems to be at the height of political virtue. One only needs to peruse the most recent spate of public opinion polls to see the degree to which political energy is focused on individual contentment. Job approval of both the president and of Congress is tracked on a weekly, if not a daily, basis by…

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American Party Culture, Part 3: Purging Substance

A party which does not stand on substance, which does not appeal to voters on the merits of ideals but instead panders to vaguely defined social needs, cannot govern. Consensus, which is ultimately defined by the ever-shifting goalposts of public opinions, is worth more than demonstrably workable ideas. Modern politics defines morality by the numbers: the more people who approve of a policy, the more political capital is possesses. This attitude goes hand-in-hand with the…

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America’s Party Culture, Part 2: Destructive Behavior

Discrimination is an operative force in politics; a functioning government must calculate what courses of action are likely to benefit the citizenry and the nation as a whole. To do so, politicians must have a vision of an end towards which they are working, meaning ideological belief is the driving force behind an efficacious politics. Parties are an organizational tool to this end; they connect members of the citizenry, who have disparate sets of belief…

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America’s Party Culture, Part 1: An Exclusive Club

An efficacious politics requires some degree of exclusivity, even in a democratic society. A functional government is built on choice; politicians must sort through vast troves of information, not all of it reliable, in order to identify and pursue the one course of action most likely to lead to a desired outcome. But it is not enough to lobby for the passage of a specific policy on the grounds that it benefits a certain constituency;…

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