Wednesday, October 02, 2013


The New York Times (what a friend of mine only half-jokingly calls "that leftist rag") includes one conservative political cartoonist's work on its website (Glenn McCoy), and it always seems to come from a parallel reality. Never more than today's, though. (That's the Times' own logo sixth from the right.) Who- Wha- Huh??? Obama as Lenin?!

I share the view that the functioning of democracy requires accepting the outcomes of democratic processes, and so of course reject made-up roadblocks like the current federal government shutdown over an operating budget. If you don't like what an elected official does, vote her/him out of office at the next election. (Not, as recently for supporters of gun control in Colorado, and a few years before that with the duly elected governor of California, jump the gun and remove them by an early referendum only you and your friends are likely to show up for.) But in the mean time, respect the process. Without it we're lost.

But at the same time I wonder if I'm getting enough information to understand what's going on, what has led to behavior among House Republicans my preferred pundits are unable to explain in any but irrational terms - madness, suicide, etc. A friend of mine said the other day that she deplored the Tea Party's complete lack of principle; I can't agree. They lack the principle of deliberative democratic fair play, I thought, but are driven to that by deeply held libertarian culture-crisis principles they share with their supporters. They may well subscribe to the emaciated democratic principle (not unknown on the left) according to which a representative's only responsibility is to the people who elected her/him - that principle's emaciated, but it's still a principle, and still democratic in the diluted way of late capitalist political imagination. Some of them genuinely think the Obama camp is undermining the principles of democracy - I need to understand why.

Two disheartening thoughts arise, though - no, three. The third is that democracy is lost in an American so divided in its information sources as well as its understandings of democracy. (I'm not prepared to accept utterly irreconcilable value systems; you know my reactions to red-blue myth-mongering.) That third thought resonates with the first, a memory of reading Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies in college. Popper calls it "the paradox of democracy" that this form of government can, entirely legitimately, abolish itself - there are no built-in mechanisms to preserve it when people no longer believe in their fellow citizens and think democracy needs supplementation or hiatus. And the second? A dejected sense that the hostage-takers on the Hill have an advantage. As with the Sequester, the longer things chug on without government functioning, the stronger their case will seem to their supporters that government isn't in the business of functioning - and that, for better or worse, we can make do without it.

Would a wise King Solomon be able to show that one side is only pretending to be committed to democracy? I suspect that folks on both sides might agree - each justified in believing (given their sources of information) that the other would rather kill the baby than share it.

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