Hogan's Alley

Friday, November 11, 2005

Tom Freidman Mourns The West's Inability To Find Consensus On Major Issues

Buried behind the NY Times' unfortunate firewall is today's column by TF. In it he wistfully thinks sinful thoughts about the ability of a dictatorship like China's to take necessary, albeit draconian, steps to deal with pollution problems and decries Western democracies' inability to amass the political will to seriously attack problems that are arguably apparent.

For those shut out of the Times' Opinion ghetto, the money quote is:

Why is this happening? Clearly, the way voting districts have been gerrymandered in America, thanks to the Voting Rights Act and Tom DeLay-like political manipulations, is a big part of the problem. As a result of this gerrymandering, only a small fraction of the seats in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures are really contested anymore. Therefore, few candidates have to build cross-party coalitions around the middle.

Most seats are now reserved for one party or the other. And when that happens, it means that in each of these districts the real election is the primary, where Democrats run against Democrats and Republicans against Republicans. And when that happens, it produces candidates who appeal only to their party's base - so we end up with a Congress paralyzed between the far left and far right.

Add to this the fragmentation of the media, with the rising power of bloggers and podcasters, and the decline in authority of traditional centrist institutions - including this newspaper - and you have what the Foreign Policy magazine editor Moisés Naím rightly calls "the age of diffusion."


This is a real dilemma because a vast majority of Americans are just center-left or center-right. Many surely feel disenfranchised by today's far-left, far-right Congress. Moreover, the solutions to our biggest problems - especially Social Security and health care - can be found only in compromises between the center-left and center-right. This is doubly true today, when the real solutions require Washington to take stuff away from people, not give them more.
Leaving aside his dubious assumption that he Times has been a centrist institution during the last 40 years, he makes an important point. The structure of American political systems makes the election of centrist politicians virtually impossible.

On another front, it may be too soon to ascribe such considerable power to the blogosphere. I expect to see many of the big bloggers decry his accusation that they push the arguments in politics to the extreme, but in truth, I have met the enemy and he is us.

Bloggers, being human, are susceptible to the attractions of power, ego and money. Look at the most read sites. Each clearly stakes out a membership in the left or right and flogs it mercilessly. Perhaps some are true believers who think that their side has achieved sole possession of truth. If so, a wise person would eschew their advice as flawed at its core.

Blogging is all about one's hit count and the ad revenue it can generate, as well as the thrill of being quoted as a wise man in other blogs or, be still my heart, in the much maligned MSM.

On bad days I despair for our future as much as brother Friedman.