I have moved through a number of levels of political engagement over the past decade and I have come to know that without my own personal determination to get to the bottom of things, it would be very difficult to escape the useless drama. But I can offer some fundamental insights which I find to be useful in understanding why there is permanent irreconcilability in the mainstream. In other words I'd like to share some big picture basics, even though I don't really 'do politics' any longer.
You cannot get close to understanding American politics unless you have about six large buckets for the general ideologies in play with the knowledge that these are in motion. Most folks merely consider their own foils rather than what actually exists. It took me a year merely to find my own place in the broad American Right. My categories work something like this. There is the Marxist Left, the Progressive Left, and the Social Liberal. The Social Liberal can be broken out into those casually vs seriously engaged. I think Obama's majority is the casual Social Liberal - those Clinton Democrats who simply could see no compelling reasons to consider a Republican candidate at the national level. Independents come in two flavors as far I can see and they are both generally skeptical, but I think they are mostly issue driven and largely disengaged from ideology. On the Right, there are Social Conservatives, Neocons, Right Libertarians and Paleocons. The main difference between neocons and paleocons comes down to foreign policy and matters of international law.
All that said, I firmly believe there is fundamental and permanent difference between the Right and Left over the role and scope of government and I explain it in terms of the following two axioms.
The Right seeks to defend the rights of 'the family' from the dysfunctions of government. The Left seeks to use the power of government to protect from the dysfunctions of 'the family'.
By 'the family' I basically mean all non-government private associations, meaning business, religion, community and family. It boils down to a question of the legitimacy of agreements between people. In other words, which 'law' is best. This is all about a contest of governance. What should be the authority and what scope should that authority take? It is the relationship between people and this sort of question that determines the shape of their politics.
The second axiom is less binding but I find it quite illuminating.
The typical person on the Left loves everyone in general and nobody in particular. The typical person on the Right dislikes everyone in general but loves particular individuals.
This is a general observation that quickly demonstrates where ones tendencies fall on questions of rights and liberties. People on the Left will argue about broadly enforced standards from which nobody should be immune, and people on the Right will argue about what some particular people ought to be able to do, no matter what, and the rest of the world be damned.
The American Congress goes to work every day as do the bureaucrats of every agency in every district, municipality, county and state. They all go to sleep at night. So whatever lies they live with -- well, human beings are very adaptable. In other words, it doesn't kill Ds or Rs to do their job, nor do they kill each other. There is an ideological scrim (and script) the floats above the business of government that the press samples and serves up hot. So what?
The job of politics is to convince people who don't know what's going on that their interests are being served. Public relations is a lie. Every party line is a lie. The details of life simply cannot be represented in the space of what we Americans call political debate. Every press release is an abstraction. All there is, is the LAW and the POLICY. The law is the agree-upon rule, the policy is how much attention the law gets, and then there's REALITY. It is impossible for elected officials to represent reality, because reality doesn't fit within the scope of policy, and policy doesn't reflect the law.
The ideological difference between my kind of folks on the Right and Progressives, is that we're not trying to get policy to cover every aspect of reality and thus lead the crafting of more and more law. Because the more you try to get policy in line with reality, the more you need some agency to police and reconcile policy with reality, the more you need to convince constituents that you are doing a good job, the more you need their ascent to justify your attempts to add more law and policy. It's a never ending circle that always contradicts itself in the end. Now remember what I said about the first Axiom. Who wants to expand government policy and law and who wants to reduce it?
Democrats have to lie about what government is capable of doing because their intent and direction is to lay down standards from which nobody is immune, using government power to protect against the dysfunctions of private action.
Republicans have to lie about what government is doing wrong because their intent and direction is to protect extraordinary individuals who really matter, leveraging private interest to protect against the abuses of government power.
Now let me talk about the Tea Party. Firstly by saying that they are American citizens who can say whatever the hell they like. All they're trying to do is elect people who think the way they do. But they are also not mainstream Republicans and are disorganized and spontaneous on purpose. That's right, on purpose. The Tea Party is less successful and will be less successful than Newt Gingrich's Contract With American candidates. There are a lot of reasons for this I won't go into. The Tea Party is a single issue movement whose basic gripe is against taxation. That's nothing really new. They simply want to defund government, it is a simple and simplistic distilled essence of what the broad American Right wants out of government. LESS. The GOP establishment cannot govern, nor win elections on such a narrow single issue platform. So it's their job to co-opt the message of the Tea Party, capitalize on its energy,etc, etc.
The reason the Tea Party touches a nerve is because its principle contradicts a fundamental myth about the Republican Party - that it is the party of the rich businessman, and the TP crowd, which is mostly rabble, are neither rich, nor businessmen. They are populist, grass roots, with no central authority and 57 different flavors. And pesky. I guess. I live in luxuriant Southern California, we have Chai Spice and Oolong, but not much generic tea activity.
I believe that the fundamental principle of the Tea Party is correct and proper, that our government is too large, too intrusive, and has too many laws and regulations that restrict my liberties and take too much money out of my pocket. Unlike the rabble, I understand that there are ways to reduce the size, scope and regulatory excess of government that have nothing to do with taxation. In other words, I don't live in a fantasy world in which I actually expect to defund government and thus lower my taxes. I know very well that tax breaks are leveraged through sophisticated and expensive lobbying.
Other than that, I pay no attention to the Tea Party and their antics, whatever they may be, have nothing to do with the way I view the six buckets. They're not a permanent bucket, and as I said, will be less successful than Newt's Contract. Like Ross Perot, nobody with think about them in 4 years. Why? Because they're street people, and street people don't change politics in the most powerful nation on the planet. Who are we kidding?
Here is what a 20 year veteran political operator told me. 17% of the electorate does their own research, is actually informed and votes accordingly. The other 83% can and will be swayed by campaigns. The business of politics is to get the 83%. Whatever works, works. It's not democracy, it's marketing. This is what the professionals who run the business of campaigns understand implicitly. I learned this about 5 years ago. As a business intelligence & IT professional, I understand what it takes to keep precise, accurate & timely data available for the use of organizations - so I have some good ideas as to how the energies of information provision are organized. In the general electorate, they are not organized - it would be too expensive, and after all, only 17% care.
After writing this morning, I considered the question of electronic voting. I want you to think of what Jeff Bezos has done in creating Amazon.com, what has been done to create Pay Pal (Elon Musk) and what has been done to create the iTunes Store. All created within the last decade or so. I've worked with credit card companies as well. So now it's my turn to ask a question. Why do you think that voting has not been done on the internet, even though banking has. The answer is because it would completely subvert the way government, press and the political parties operate their control of what the public is thinking relevant to elections and policy. The excuse made is about 'voter fraud'..
Again these are subjects that have to do with the mechanisms of voter registration, fundraising, and the contact points between party operations and the public at large. I have been inside of that process and neither party wants it changed. The information revolution has already bypassed the American electoral process, because that's the way the parties want it.
The Democrats say what their bosses want them to say. The Republicans say what their bosses want them to say. That is how the sausage is made. There are only X number of issues in the news cycle, and it's a top down process. The opinion makers decide how to frame the issue according to POLICY and you consume their vetted responses and arguments.
Right now, today, you can't tell me jack about what's going on in the Horn of Africa, because that's not in play. That's not what's on the primetime political menu. Listen, I've been nationally broadcast on NPR in case you forgot. You talk about what the market wants to hear, and the parties are the market makers. Period.