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Stephen Herrington

Stephen Herrington

Posted: December 15, 2010 11:30 AM

After George Bush's "drubbing" in 2006 and Barack Obama's "shellacking" in 2010, one certainty is salient in a universe of political uncertainty. Both parties are struggling to hold their bases. The wings are getting wing-ier and the ranks of the unaffiliated are swelling. Both parties are fighting for votes from a growing and disaffected center while the Tea Party pulls the GOP to the right and the progressives pull the Democrats to the left. Instead of a post partisan political environment, the parties a more vehemently polar than most people can remember since the sixties.

It's precisely because the GOP feared the appeal of Obama's message of changing Washington that this has ensued. Axelrod and Obama were right in their marketing plan, people hate partisanship. People just want their damned government to work. The GOP reads the polls too, and feared the popularity of a figure that could accomplish that. So Mitch McConnell and the boys set about breeding voter discontent for all of Washington in hopes that it would drag down Obama's startling popularity numbers. It was a risky strategy, but it succeeded in in just two years. Mitch did what he set out to do and blunted the promise of the Obama presidency and the frustration of the general public and the left boiled over.

In the meantime, the GOP had problems of its own. Unwilling to accept the fact of conservatism's epic failure as a governing philosophy, the far right reached into the crazy bank and withdrew every bumper sticker addicted John Birch whack job they could find in order to change the subject from governing to politics. They changed the subject from governance and law to Death Panels and to "just how crazy are these people bringing guns to a town hall meeting?" Unfortunately, the Tea Party took itself seriously.

Now the right of American politics is assailed from the right and the left of American politics is assailed from the left. The chasm between the voting blocks of left and right, if it were a physical thing, could be seen from the moon. The middle is more alienated from party politics than ever, and the left and right are agitating to strike out on their own creating the a new high in the potential for a FOUR party system. Serious minds might define that outcome as splintering. The more easily cowed by conflict might call it chaos.

With debate on Capitol Hill over legislation reaching a meaningful content low not seen since the Civil War, the orderly business of government is ground to a near halt. The Gingrich brinkmanship of the middle nineties may soon appear, in retrospect, a speed bump. The far right believes that Gingrich caved. The far left believes that Clinton caved. 2011 does not bode well for easy resolution on a new debt ceiling. And without authorization of a new debt ceiling the Obama tax cut/stimulus plan will be utterly useless and the process of gutting public programs will begin in earnest.

Reasonable minds ought to be able to identify a plan by which we can work our way out of the Great Recession and our modest but yet unreasonable national debt. But then government is now more negotiation than problem solving. The negotiation, though, should be simple enough if you can agree on what it is that you are negotiating. The trouble is that, as the term negotiation portends, we are negotiating about money. Politics, in this era, is about little else than money. The populist far right wants more of it for the rich and themselves and the left wants the digging in the hole in which the right has placed the nation to stop. The left wants limits, first and foremost, on the damage one is allowed to do pursuing the goal of getting more money. The left wants, second and as reparations for past misdeeds, to get money back into the system that the rich have taken out of it.

But government ought not to be a "negotiation" at all. It ought be more about principle than money but it's not. In government, we are not buying a used car we are planning a future. As is legend in the plains tribes of Native Americans, leadership must think ahead for the next two generations, if not for all of those that follow. But we are negotiating, and the money aspect of it may be overshadowing what is really at stake.

In America, Enlightenment revolutionaries codified egalitarianism in government in 1776. Individual liberty was formally wed to equality, and the American experiment led the world into a new age of liberation from the tyranny of the few.

But every once in a while, it seems necessary to repeat the philosophical trial of concentrated power versus the egalitarianism that threw off King George. The Civil War and Trust Busting were such retrials, where the dominion of a few over the fate of many was revisited and revised.

Such a time is now, as we barter over whether or not any and all means of extracting personal wealth from the earth and its peoples is consistent with the concepts of personal liberty and equality. Without the rule of law, the scope of one man's liberty can easily include depriving another man of his. Therefore our politics have become a "negotiation" not just about money, but the underlying assumptions in law about personal, and now corporate it seems, liberty.

This aspect of our politics, that we are arguing about the definition of liberty, is largely hidden by the higher profile of money in the minds of the press and public. Right now, it seems, the right and corporate powers are bending the concept of individual liberty back in time and in meaning to include sustaining the personal wealth of kings among the guiding principles of law.

Our politics have devolved to right and left with a mythical middle that's all about who gets the money and when. Getting the money right now being the primary objective of the negotiations. This is probably the natural state of commerce on the street, but it should not be the frame of debate on how to govern. Our government, if we agree that it should continue to exist, is about charting a course through the indifferent vagaries of temporal commerce through which equality, liberty and justice can be passed to the next generations.

The disaffected and independent appear to be confused by all this. But then why wouldn't the middle be confused? They assume that their liberties are not at issue. They see elections as cut and dried. Either business gets done or it doesn't, and they don't care by whom or how it gets done. In this rejection of party politics they fail to take more than their personal financial outcomes into consideration. They also fail to extrapolate the outcome of policies that funnel more and more of profit and wealth to a tiny class of super rich.

The middle doesn't see that we are engaged in an epic struggle to redefine liberty in a new age of mega commerce. The middle only sees their paychecks dwindling and their jobs under duress. They would be much happier if we'd stop negotiating and start making their lives better. So they vote for what might make it better, and in absence of a sensible and coherent plan by a unified government, their vote seems like flailing. And it is flailing.

So why not have four parties? We'd have solved the nations problems already if we were able to properly assess the relative value of liberty versus money, a problem that was solved for the generation that forged the Constitution by their Constitution. The same principles should apply if we can update our thinking to the era of business that rivals government in scope and power.

Four parties couldn't make things much worse. As it is, liberty and money have been redefined as philosophically identical to our government. It would help if we acknowledged what it is over which we are toiling. Four parties would also have the benefit of driving the lackadaisical main stream media apoplectic.