[OPE-L] An American columnist muses about the Zeitgeist

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Oct 23 2006 - 13:32:53 EDT

Rereading some of Karl Marx's articles in the New York Daily Tribune, I got
a strange sense of deja vu... plus ca change...

Sebastian Mallaby (Washington Post, Monday, October 23, 2006; Page A21)

"In fact, it's hard to name a single creative policy that has political legs
in Washington. (...) Instead, the right and left are pushing policies that
are marginal to the country's problems. (...) I'm not predicting the end of
the American era, not by a long shot. The U.S. business culture is as
pragmatic and effective as its political culture is dysfunctional. But has
there been a worse moment for American power since Ronald Reagan celebrated
morning in America almost a quarter of a century ago? I can't think of one."

But why is US political culture "dysfunctional"? Presumably because in
reality governmental politics and the two main parties are seriously out of
sync with where a critical mass of the voters are really at, there is a lot
of second-guessing by the apparatchinks about where they are at, and nobody
is willing to take the bull by the horns to resolve longstanding domestic

In a representative democracy, politicians are supposed to represent the
electorate. But what if they really don't? What if there is only an
opportunist scramble for a "policy mix" that will appease voters
sufficiently to get candidates elected? Foreign policy is high on the agenda
in the upcoming election, but what about domestic policy?

From an admittedly European and impressionistic perspective, the American
parties themselves also seem to be internally divided about a whole range of
public issues and thus unable to take a principled stand on anything much,
and the leaders seem to fall over each other in their search for subtle
policy distinctions and qualifications so as not to upset potential voters
too much. For the rest, there is a lot of vague rhetoric and appeals to

Just how pitiful American democracy really is, is shown by the Green Party's
recent protests against "aggressive efforts by Democratic and Republican
politicians and their supporters to block Greens and other third party and
independent candidates from participating in this year's candidates
debates." http://www.gp.org/press/pr_2006_10_12.shtml Not only is there a
lack of popular debate, there are also attempts to prevent it from
happening. You might well say that this is not really a democracy, but a
plutocracy. And these are the politicians who want to tell the world how to
"democratize" themselves...

So you can hardly blame ordinary people in the rest of the world for not
taking American politics very seriously, beyond wanting Mr Bush out of
power. But maybe many Americans experience the upcoming election as a
non-event as well - there are plenty important issues, but few people are
debating them in a principled way - which is most probably conducive to

Possibly the most important benefit of a Democratic Party win of the
critical seats in Congress, as Andrew Rawnsley (The Observer, Sunday October
15) pointed out, would be that hard questions could be raised about 9/11,
the Iraq War and various local scandals. But would they be raised, and are
Democrats committed to raising them? The Clintons for example have
pronounced themselves in favour of promoting the "unity of all Americans",
prudently not raising many issues. Yet if anything is clear, it is that
Americans aren't united, and that they have conflicting interests... hence
the difficulty of finding the common denominator that will strike gold.
Meanwhile, the American body politic, so it seems, doesn't even enable the
real controversy to be expressed in a democratic way.


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