Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Death of the "American Political Order"

Consider this as a start of a new strand for discussion and development. And the theme is the death of the American political order. Now because we Americans like to say that we live under the oldest constitution, we also like to think that we have lived under only one political order. But in point of fact, we have lived under several different political orders or systems and what we are witnessing now is the death of one of those orders.

I had not noticed this until very recently, helped by the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts and by the recent decision of the Supreme Court regarding corporations and elections. Let me speculate that the political order that is dying was created by FDR in the aftermath of the Great Depression. This would make some sense as it took an event the significance of the Great Depression to kill off the previous political order, which was hanging on by virtue of life support anyway. And let me call this political order the progressive political order which was founded on some basic principles, economic, social, and international. Economically the principle was "freedom from fear," that is, building an economic order which would make economic security widespread and permanent. Socially, the principle was what might be called "integration," that is, a society which minimized the concept of second class citizenship. Internationally, the principle was an "active", that is, assertive and interventionist foreign policy in order to promote world wide the principles of economic security and social integration.

Of course, there were disagreements over the implementation of these principles, for example, over the proper way to guarantee economic security, whether through governmental guarantees or through a rapidly expanding economy which would "lift all boats," as the saying had it. But few, very few, questioned that the goal should be economic security. Again, there were disagreements over integration but no significant disagreement over integration as a goal. And, finally, there were disagreements over foreign policy but no significant disagreements over the desirability of an activist, interventionist foreign policy.

Now, if this political order is dying then there should be and will be significant reservations over these goals. Can it be said that this happening? Well, perhaps. Or perhaps not. But here is what is visible right now. It is clear that the people or most of them are disgusted with "politics as usual." The speed with which the people have turned on Obama is quite visible and interesting. He is not being given the benefit of the doubt, as it were, because he is perceived as embracing "politics as usual." And this is no longer acceptable. Moreover, there are the Tea Partiers, as they are called, who are demanding a basic re-orientation of our politics, for better or worse. Attempts by the Republican Party to co-opt the Tea Partiers have been met with intense resistance by that movement. We have a recent decision by the Supreme Court which overturns decades of precedent with regard to trying to regulate the involvement of corporations in our elections. Whether this decision's impact will be as significant as many have argued is not clear to me. But what is significant to me is that the Supreme Court could make this decision at all. That this was possible is more important than the actual impact of the decision, just as the decision in Brown v. the Board of Education outlawing segregated schools was more significant than the actual impact of that decision. "Conservatives" "going rogue" are also visible and some of these "conservatives" do not fit the mold of leaders that arose with the triumph of FDR's New Deal politics.

In brief, there is a whole lot going on "out there" and it might be explained as the death of one political order, while the birth and characteristics of the next one are not altogether clear. But as was sung in the 60s, "Something's happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." To be pursued later.

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