Is it just the US, or is politics hopeless everywhere?

I came into my political awareness about 10 years ago, as Bush took office. While I’m aware of some political history before that, I don’t really understand the mood of the country around that time. For example, I know there were mass-protests over Vietnam. What I don’t know is if it broke down as mad men types loudly decrying how the goddamn hippies were destroying the fabric of our country vs. pacifists wailing about the moral collapse that war has brought, or if it were more reasoned, with only grumblings on both sides. I do know that the media has never been more partisan before, but I’m not sure when that all started, either. Did impartial journalism go out with Murrow, or is it more recent than that?

I’m almost 30, and filled with frustration and apathy about politics. Very little gets accomplished, and what does get done has to be clawed in bloody hunks from the opposition. Political “debates,” both during election seasons and occuring regularly on media networks is less than useless; people scream at each other and no one gives an inch from their original position. The current state of the political parties seems to be that the dems can barely get anything accomplished, even when they held the super majority (although Obama has gotten done more than I expected), and the pubs are simply hell bent on making things difficult, even if it’s to the detriment of the country.

Even the liberal/conservative labels seem new, or at least new in the strict way that they get attached to dem/repub. Did all that come in new with Bush Jr. campaigning to change the minds of stupid poor/middle class people on moral grounds so that he would get the votes from people to whom he would do the most damage? Politics is supposed to be about compromise, but there’s very little compromise to be had between “gays are satan” and “gays are not satan.”

So I guess what I’m asking is A) has partisan politics always been this viciously divided, and B) is it mostly the same in other 1st world countries? I haven’t seen many debates from other countries, but I do recall seeing a newscast about one of the UK’s crazy nutter parties. I think their position was the immigrants were ruining the country, but at least (and this was in the middle of a rally) the person they spoke to spoke calmly and tried to give reasons for her positions.

In the interest of using bluntness to bypass unnecessary verbiage…
…fuck the concept of American exceptionalism. Politics everywhere is a zoo. Try watching some videos of brawls breaking out in the Taiwanese legislature. American congressmen are pussies by comparison, and sedate genteel pussies at that.

The people don’t matter, the culture doesn’t matter, but the structure and incentives do matter. Large populous areas are governed badly by highly centralized government; small or federal government tends to do better. There’s a world of difference between politics in the Soviet Union and the politics in the US, and yet another world between the US and Switzerland or Hong Kong.

The seasteaders may be crazy but they have the right idea: structural change, not rhetoric and rallies, is the way to change the trajectory of politics, and fostering more competition in the market for governance is a decent way to curb the power of politics.

While it is true that politics in general is a dirty game wherever you go, American politics have become particularly polarized in the last decade or so, and not so much along strictly ideological lines per se as idiotological lines, i.e. people who can’t see past puerile sloganeering and pure muck-slinging. It is tempting to credit this modern shift to the Reagan era, but in fact the Reagan administration did make an effort to reach out to the opposing party to achieve its ends despite its neocon agenda and Moral Majority bedfellows. It was really Newt Gingrich and the 1994 Contract With America that began the reflexively polarizing demarcation between parties and the seeming complete intellectual debasement of the GOP which was only summited by the combination of John McCain doing a complete flip on previously strongly held principles and elevating the unknown and unqualified Sarah Palin to the vice presidential candidate strictly on her visual appeal.

This is hardly the first time such polarization has occurred in American politics, and of course, it is common in other European democracies; the viciousness that hallmarks British change of government is legendary even among the nastiness that is parliamentary politics. But it certainly seems like any voice of moderation or reason is drowned out by extremism, to a point that it has actively skewed American politics to a distinctly conservative bent. Those who decry the Clinton and Obama administrations as being “left wing liberals” don’t even seem to understand the context of the term, insofar as Clinton veered distinctly right of center on many issues and Obama is dead moderate compared to the neo-liberalism of the 'Sixties.

As for being hopeless, bear in mind that democracy as a policy is a tyranny of the mean over the median. One assumes that having a more educated population as a whole means that they make more informed decisions, but in fact, politics is a monster fed by fear, uncertainty, and doubt; core emotional responses that transcend intellect. From this perspective, it is wrong to expect large political institutions that are subject to constant flux of public opinion to accomplish any long-term goal of note. Instead, change comes from altering the institutions that underly the political structure itself. One has more power to ultimately influence public policy via fiscal investment, resisting corruption, and supporting technical and infrastructure development than can ever be exercised in the voting booth. Want to make a real change? Don’t support a candidate or a party; support a cause or investment.


Protip: if your pundit of choice complains about polarization only when they’re losing, they’re not really complaining about polarization.

Yes, and Bush was distinctly left of centre compared to the policies of 1929

I really don’t undertsand this widely touted viewpoint. Any nation, hell, the whole world, has been more extreme in both directions in the past than it is today. People who decry current candidates and parties as “left wing liberals” or “right wing plutocrats” aren’t wrong for doing. Obama and Clinton really were left wing. They weren’t Left of Mao Tse Tung, but Bush wasn’t Right of Hitler either. Clinton didn’t support all the policies of the more extremist 60s liberals, and Bush sure as hell didn’t support all the isolationsit and racist policies of the past either. Nonetheless Obama and Clinton are further left than past presidents in some regards and Bush and Reagan further right.

The point is that ideas get tried, debated and discarded. Nobody is going to go back to them. The only relevant issue is how parties and candidates stack up in the world of today, not whether they are more extreme than some of their predecessors. People who point out that Obama or Bush are hold ideals that they disagree with are not wrong just because somebody else in the past was worse. Those people really do disagree with those policies and the labels they apply are usually apt.

None of this of course means that politics have become more conservative. Compared to 1899 or even 1949 you’re living in a Liberal’s paradise where all parties support Black people going to college and neither party actively persecutes people having sex outside marriage. Of course by similar metrics you’re living in a conservative paradise. And that is rather the point. But arguing that American politics has a conservative bent at the moment compared to 1945 is far more farcical than claiming that has a liberal bent compared to 1960.

Wait… you live in Japan.

Surely the utter hopelessness of Japanese politics couldn’t have escaped your notice?

In top down countries where the factions representing power offer their candidates for approval you’re not going to change much by voting in one of your own (since that is impossible). Instead you have to change people’s attitudes and hope it filters up. It takes some time, but over the years it can result in surprising shifts if it doesn’t threaten the core of the power structure. Gay rights is probably the most obvious example over the last 10-20 years.

[quote=“Stranger_On_A_Train, post:4, topic:558604”]

It is tempting to credit this modern shift to the Reagan era, but in fact the Reagan administration did make an effort to reach out to the opposing party to achieve its ends despite its neocon agenda and Moral Majority bedfellows.

So has Obama but Obama does have a Republican counterpart to Tip O’Neill.

I think Tom Delays K street project and “majority of the majority” rule might have had something to do with it.

I’ve lived various places around the world; politics is a mess, and depressing, everywhere.

Well, to a certain extent, but I’m not nearly fluent enough to understand a political discussion. Plus the Japanese system is foreign enough that I don’t really know if one side is doing the equivalent of a fillibuster just to cause problems like I can recognize in the US. Plus they change PMs every year. How can anyone keep up with it?

What I don’t see are the super vocal people getting media play. And maybe that’s a product of the culture, or a product of the media. I know there are crazy extremist groups that want all foreigners to leave, for example, but I don’t know how prevalent stuff like that is.

I’m just having trouble deciding if politics accomplishes anything. I guess in theory it’s not supposed to; because it represents the will of the people, by definition the people have to change before the politics do. It’s so depressing in the states, and I have trouble being more politically involved than voting for the guy who’s not the conservative.

I just can’t help but think that as much bureaucracy is involved in politics in other countries, it’s reached a point in the states where the polarization has made “winning” more important than helping the country. I know we’ve gone through conservative and liberal swings throughout history, but this seems to be something different.

To answer the OP from a british perspective. From this distance, US politics certainly ‘seems’ rather divisive/nuts. Our political parties obviously don’t always agree - there’d be no point having more than one party of that was the case, and there’s certainly a goodly amount of shouting that goes on across the floor of the House - but I certainly don’t get the same sense of ‘good/evil’ that seems to be represented in the US. Whatever the positions of the left and right here, mainstream politics is generally pretty moderate. For example, on the issue of gay rights legislation (of which there has been major developments over the last 10 years) you don’t find any mainstream politician shouting about the downfall of society.

The US system seems designed to produce gridlock; and some people seem to like it that way, because they argue that it’s best that government only act when there’s a very clear consensus. However, that means in practice that even when one party controls both houses of Congress and the presidency, it’s very difficult to get anything done, even with a near super-majority in the Senate. As a foreign observer, that strikes me as a very odd system, because it undercuts the idea that you can vote out one group and put in another group whose policies you prefer. It’s still possible to get changes, such as the health-care package, but it’s very difficult.

Many parliamentary systems are different - particularly those that have first past the post electoral systems (UK, Canada), or mixtures of first past the post and proporational representation (Australia, Germany). The parliamentary system has evolved so that if a party wins a clear majority in the predominant chamber in Parliament, that party will normally be able to implement its policies. The Loyal Opposition’s job is to oppose and criticise, but they simply don’t have the institutional powers to block the majority that the minority party does in the US houses of Congress. So if you don’t like what the current government is up to in a parliamentary system, working to elect a different government can have immediate impact.

Haven’t you seen the old videos of the 1968 Democratic Convention? Have you read about the public reaction to the 1970 shootings at Kent State and Jackson State or seen any references to the 1970 Hard Hat Riot that followed? The fight over Vietnam made the debate over Iraq look like a discussion of whether the toilet paper goes over or under.

Historically, the idea of an unbiased media is something of an aberration. John Adams used the Alien and Sedition Acts to send eight newspaper publishers to jail for their political attacks. Elijah Lovejay ran an anti-slavery newspaper in Illinois and was killed by a mob. The *Richmond Sentinel *was founded in 1863 to be a voice for the Confederate government. Ever notice how many newspapers have Democrat or Republican in their names? It isn’t a coincidence.

At least we haven’t had anything like Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, or Representative Preston Smith Brooks beating Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the United States Senate with a cane while fellow Congressman Laurence Keitt pulled a gun to keep anyone from breaking it up.

Remember, when Justice Alito took exception to Obama’s reference a Supreme Court decision in a State of the Union speech, mouthing the words “not true”? Well, Justice James McReynolds called Franklin Roosevelt a “crippled son-of-a-bitch.” Think the conservatives were too critical of Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama? Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, claimed Eleanor Roosevelt was “more subversive and dangerous than Moscow.”

Just check out some European politicans’ comments about Muslims.

You should go read history. You would be amazed at the things that went on. It’s not much different now than it was in Andrew Jackson’s day. People think it is, but it’s not. Read your history, you will have your eyes opened.

The US government is set up so you CAN’T change things overnight. So there WOULD BE gridlock. This was the whole idea behind it.

Change comes very slow.

Politics is no more left versus right than it was with Reagan or it was 100 years ago.

The problem is people think for THEM instead of society as a whole.

There are reasons why. If I’m going to be dead in 20 years, which in all likelyhood will be, why should I care about anything more. Should I give and give for the next 20 years to benefit strangers I don’t know? Of course I should, it’s good for my society, but for me it’d suck as I’d have nothing and spend my last few years in having nothing.

People vote their own particular interests. People in power are only interested in staying there. I don’t mean that as “awful” as it sounds. By in power, I mean “in the job”

People are idiots as they vote people in time and time again, then bitch about nothing changing.

But really instead of wondering about American politics, start reading history books. You’ll find, and very quickly, how little has changed.

Post-WWII, Germany has not done all that much better than France, at least not in any way attributable to the difference between a unitary and a federal system.

And China (huge unitary country) has done damned well, for a Communist state – better by some measures than India, which is a non-Communist federal republic.

Yes, it is. In the course of the 1970s, the major parties swapped parts of their constituencies – Southern white conservative Dems switching to the GOP, liberal “Rockefeller Republicans” going to the Dems – with the result that, for the first time in American history, each party’s “big tent” is very, very roughly homogeneous, with relatively little overlap with the other’s, and the partisan divide is also, pretty clearly, an ideological divide. And that has affected all elections since.

I think you may be forgetting something


If you REALLY think the past was not partisan, I suggest you google “preston brooks”, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”, “Everett massacre”, “Robert Bork”, “Kent State massacre”, “history of union busting”, or even “US Civil War”.

Compared to how politics has sometimes been in the US, things are actually fairly civil these days.

I envy the political passion of the Taiwanese.

“Smaller is better,” is a huge overgeneralization, & does not necessarily imply that, “more federalized is better.” Federal systems create competing levels of authority, who can end up fighting each other over their prerogatives to the detriment of serving the public (see the present whining about state’s rights in health care policy).