Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Geometry of Politics: How the Founding Fathers Continue to Reshape Our Destiny

Below is an essay on American Politics by a friend of mine. I like to promote unique perspectives, healthy debate, and knowledge sharing, so if you've got an interesting piece (article, photo-essay, or whatnot) you'd like to share, then send it to me.


The Geometry of Politics: How the Founding Fathers Continue to Reshape Our Destiny

by Ray Edison Refundo on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 9:32pm

The years 2008 and 2009 has been a period amplified political discourse. Pundits from both sides of America’s political divide have never shown more enmity. From the resurgence of the left’s liberalism to the reactionary “tea parties” of the right, the country seems to be even more divided today than during the Bush administration. This I find tragically ironic as our current sitting president ran and won the White House on the platform of unity, attracting more Republican voters than any Democratic candidate in recent history. Some overzealous liberals even predicted that the party would dominate for the next 40 years, but the defeat of Martha Coakley to Scott Brown last January in the Massachusetts senate race was an outlier of severe political consequence to the Democratic agenda, and many liberals were simply flabbergasted upon hearing the news. Today’s politics is more dynamic than in the past. The ubiquitous nature of information has made the political mood even more volatile. The major factor in the rapid shifts in the political environment is the increasing number of independent voters. Independent voters now hold the key to winning elections. However we still cannot ignore the base of the two parties because they have also grown more bold and uncompromising, posing an even greater challenge to any politician who knows that victory rest upon how successfully they could reach independent voters without alienating their traditional base supporters, a delicate balancing act of flip-flopping without looking like flip-flopping. The Democrats are also now realizing that the Republicans are becoming increasingly intransigent as the midterm election grows near.

The traditional delineation between liberals and conservatives, right and left, has also changed. What most would consider “liberal” or “conservative” today may have been the opposite in the past and vice versa. Perhaps it may come as a surprise to many to learn that it was the Democratic Party who was more conservative and that the Republican Party is the more liberal early in America’s history, and yes the Democratic Party and not the Republican Party is the oldest political party in the country. One might find it ironic that neoliberalism has become the basic tenet of conservative economic philosophy, and that the political and social liberals are the ones more inclined towards isolationism. In addition it is also important to note the Republican Party’s aggressive stance on the proliferation of democracy all over the world, a policy of engagement that they would be willing to fight a preemptive war for. To those who have lived the decade prior to the outbreak of the Second World War you would know that it was the Republicans who largely took the anti-war stance, and that the Democrats lead by Franklin D. Roosevelt that wanted the country to enter the increasing conflict in Europe. Even more bizarre is the alliance between the Christian right and the proponents of free markets, given the early Christian settlements’ egalitarian past. However any good student of history should not be surprised because Calvinism, an ideology that holds a more liberal interpretation of scripture, is the predominant ideology of the early Christian settlers. Who could have ever predicted the adoption of populism by the new conservative movement? For most of history populism has been the political arm of the left, and they benefited from lambasting the “elite” for exploiting the working class, now conservatives have turned the table and accuse liberals of being the “elite” as most of them reside in big cities and with a larger proportion of them with college education.

Lower taxes, less regulation, strong defense, small government and the upholding of traditional “American values” is the current mantra of the conservative movement. Equality, liberty, a proactive government, and civil rights have been the issues pursued by progressives. Each camp accuses the other of being in the “extreme left or extreme right”. Liberals called George W. Bush a “fascist” while talk radio keeps referring to Barrack Obama as “communist”. This is based on the traditional view of the political spectrum. The extreme right is fascism; the extreme left is communism and anarchy. This is a linear view of the structure of politics. Given what we already know of the continuing shifts in ideology within the camps, it is ostensibly clear that this linear model is not accurate. If we go the extreme of small government then we will reach a point of no government, no hierarchy, we have anarchy. How could this be? The traditional view of anarchy (the final elimination of a ruling class) is that it is a phenomenon of the left. If we look into the extreme of the right, fascism, we don’t see a smaller government, but a bigger one. The Nazi’s certainly were not for small government and free markets. Does this make the Nazi’s liberals? A book published last year by Jonah Goldberg was titled “Liberal Fascism”. The book largely used Mussolini’s history with socialism, a fair assessment because his fascist ideas were actually born out of his readings of Marx and Engels, but with a more nationalistic flare. The word “Nazi” itself stands for National Socialism.

Now the real question is what makes an ideology “conservative” or “liberal”? right wing or left wing? The cause of most confusion about the subject is the mistake people make when defining these terms. There is an assumption that the word “conservative” is synonymous to “right wing” and “liberal” is the same as “left wing”. We need to understand that the words “conservative” and “liberal” are relative terms. For example, the conservative Confucians in ancient China were against trade with the West, but conservative Americans are in favor of free trade. In communist countries rightist ideologies are not considered “conservative” and big government is not considered “liberal”, it’s the other way around. Maybe we should reconsider our traditional view of a “linear” shaped politics. A more accurate representation I believe is a circle, that if you go too far to the left you get to the right and vice versa. This means that a person’s political persuasion is not a matter of distance but a mater of direction, we may have to take a second look of what it means for someone to be in the “far left” or “far right”, an expression traditionally used to paint the opposing ideology as belonging to the extreme.

Today we see an America bitterly divided among ideological lines. The rise of new powers such as China, the European Union, and India have inadvertently triggered the resurgence of nationalism on America’s political right, and isolationism on the left. The result would be either military adventurism or trade wars depending on which political party has dominance. Fortunately the growing strength of independent voters is putting a check on the country’s march to either side. We may always complain about the “do nothing congress” or of a President “flip-flopping” in his attempt to achieve compromise, but this is the true genius of America. Our founding fathers made sure that no one individual or political party would have complete control. After 234 years their decisions are still reshaping our politics, the question now is what shape will it take in the future?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Given that the economy is in recovery, the handling of the Egyptian crisis, and the veering of the Republicans to the extreme rigth, Obama will probably win another term.

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