Summary: Why don’t we have the leaders we deserve? Perhaps we do. America’s institutions, our political machinery, work just fine. We’re the broken link in the machinery. Visit McDonald’s for proof. This is the third in a series about the American people’s struggle to adjust to the new century; links to the other chapters appear at the end.
America no longer functions well, but our self-esteem remains untouched. Therefore the problems must lie elsewhere than ourselves. The most popular candidates for blame are our rulers (unworthy of our greatness) and our institutions. Examples are legion; here are a two.
(1) America needs leaders suitable to our wonderfulness
For a clear statement of America’s delusional beliefs we go to a master: “Third Party Rising” by Tom Freidman, op-ed in the New York Times, 21 October 2010:
We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.
… We need a third party on the stage of the next presidential debate to look Americans in the eye and say: “These two parties are lying to you. They can’t tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world’s leaders, not the new Romans.”
Friedman quotes Stanford University political scientist Larry Diamond: “We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country. … They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations.” Bill Gross, the world’s top bond manager (in dollars), expresses similar sentiments:
American politics resemble an airline terminal with a huckster’s bowl waiting to be filled every two years. And the paramount problem is not that we contribute so willingly or even so cluelessly, but that there are only two bowls to choose from.
All very flattering to our ego. Now for another perspective: our institutions are efficient engines giving us what we want (not what we say we want). No party offers reforms because we don’t want to pay the price, because reforms tend to be painful and expensive. We might as complain about why McDonalds and Burger King have not been bankrupted by fast food chains selling low-cal meals of organic veggies and small portions of lean meat.
Where is the evidence that Americans want bold actions? Not in the polls. We want more services from the government, but we prefer not to pay for them. Cuts to other people’s benefits are OK. Having someone else pay more is also OK. Regulations on others may be necessary, but not on us. Strict enforcement of the laws is great, but when on us it’s oppression.
“Every nation has the government it deserves.”
— Joseph de Maistre (lawyer, diplomat, philosopher), Letter 76 dated 13 August 1811) published in Lettres et Opuscules
(2) We need new institutions to express our wonderfulness
We need new institutions, ones worthy of us. Hence the popularity of structural changes. The extreme example: calling a new Constitutional Convention. We cannot make our current political machinery work, but perhaps we will find a new system easier to operate. We lack sufficient wisdom and cohesion to run the existing Constitutional apparatus. That amendments — one or many, large or small — will allow us to better govern ourselves seems a triumph of hope over logic. Of self-esteem over self-knowledge.
For a summary of this debate see “Is It Time for a Convention?, Philip Klein, American Spectator, October 2010.
Other posts in this series
(1) Which is better? Rioting in France and Greece or snoozing in America?, 28 October 2010
(2) Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?, 29 October 2010
(4) The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 2 November 2010
Posts about solutions, ways to reform America
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
- Are the new “tea party” protests a grass roots rebellion or agitprop?, 1 March 2009
- The first step on the road to America’s reform, 29 May 2009
- Correction to my previous posts – not all citizen activism is good…, 16 October 2009
- The first step to reforming America (the final version), 7 December 2009
- Question of the Day, about reforming America, 12 March 2010
- The project to reform America: a matter for science, or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
- The Tea Party Movement disproves my recommendation for the path to reforming America, 20 April 2010
- Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010