February 26, 2012
A very curious thing has happened over the last fifty years or so. Politics has been ruined by technology and media. It started somewhat innocently with television, but as more media, more connections and more technology have come online, the information flood has ruined the idealistic American view of politics. It’s simply not possible to be a Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or even a Roosevelt today.
When our country was first founded by imperfect men, their imperfections were ignored relatively easily. The flow of information was slow and standardized enough that these men were judged on the political ideas they choose to promulgate and debate rather than their own personal lives or actions.
It may be easy to initially believe that more disclosure is a good thing for a public figure, but I think that it has rather dire consequences that actually change the nature of the public discourse itself. When public figures debate public policy and ideas, they must respond to each other in reference to those policies and ideas. When “full disclosure” is required and allowed in a public discourse, the entire thing becomes an exercise in ad hominem ad absurdum. In other words, the quality of the entire civic life of the country changes. Politicians focus on eliminating missteps and assuring a flawless public record rather than producing important political ideas for debate. The election process becomes a beauty contest, and likely a Keynesian one at that.
On top of this transformation, another happens when we speed up the pace of public debate. The quickness of the spread of information today is beyond anything most of us could imagine even ten or twenty years ago. Quickness means smallness, necessarily. And thus, the Twitter problem is born: how does a public figure provide the fullness of their views on an issue in 140 characters or less? (Even worse, what if they’re wrong, or misrepresent the other side, even accidentally?) They can’t of course, but the public expects their information in these small quanta today, and politicians try to provide it. Try fitting the Federalist Papers into a blog post or two.
Given these two problems, the polarization of our two main political parties can be seen as a symptom. In a world of free-flowing information and full public disclosure, the problem of institutionalism changes. The Democratic and Republican parties serve themselves, rather than serving to evince the views of its members. This is probably true today for almost all institutions. When was the last time you heard of an organization that, once it’s mission is fulfilled, closes? It never happens; instead the mission changes and evolves over time to serve the institution itself.
This is especially concerning at the level of government itself. When the equation changes so that the people exist to serve a government rather than government serving the people, the contract has broken. In a constitutional democracy, this can only happen when politics invades government, something that seems to be happening more and more often. The Iowa Supreme Court Election of 2010 is only one such example where members of the judicial branch of government were voted out of office by outside political factions over a decision on gay marriage. Agreement or disagreement on the issue itself is not relevant. The problem is that it happened at all.
Despite the infighting of Democrats and Republicans being a symptom of these problems, one place they can begin to be fixed is by the creation of a third political party. This party would need to be considered by the media as “moderate” in their quantized sound-byte terminology, but would in fact be focused on the Constitution. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is always the measure by which we consider law and policy in this country. And for good reason: the Constitution is remarkable for its ability to describe generally the rights of humans.
So we’ll call it the Constitutionalist Party.
Here’s what I would hope to expect out of the Constitutionalist Party:
Perhaps some of these problems are why Ron Paul ends up being so popular?