The undecided voter

I too am against partisan bickering, etc., but this guy just doesn't get it: 

It's striking that both liberals and conservatives are convinced nowadays of the imminent demise of the other side's governing philosophy. The left says the shocking toll of BP's recklessness and Wall Street's greed proves the folly of deregulation and unfettered markets. The right looks at Greece, Europe's welfare strains, and Britain's stunning new austerity budget and shouts with similar fervor that bloated government is on borrowed time.

The fascinating thing is that both groups are correct about the obsolescence of the other side's key premises, yet blind to the staleness of their own. What partisans on neither side seem to sense is that events are poised to consign many traditional priorities of both conservatives and liberals to the ash heap.

You'd never know this from the phony way public life is conducted. While independents are America's largest voting bloc, the left and right retain a stranglehold on the debate. Only the shrill prevail. On TV, talk radio or the campaign trail, it's almost impossible to hear the kind of common sense that takes us beyond the usual partisan tropes.

Think about it: How often do you hear the same pundit or politician say that (1) we need to reform Wall Street compensation so bankers can't get rich taking gambles whose losses get picked up by taxpayers ("liberal"), and that (2) Social Security's growth needs to be trimmed ("conservative")? Or that (1) we need to scale back gold-plated public employee pensions ("conservative") and (2) raise taxes in sensible ways to fix our fiscal woes ("liberal")?

These ideas aren't inconsistent or incoherent — they're pragmatic responses to the challenges we face. But our entire system conspires to ban the expression of a practical synthesis of the best of "liberal," "conservative" and more eclectic views.

Everyone claims–some correctly–that they have found "pragmatic responses to the challenges we face."  The question–one our public discourse fails to answer–is who has got the better response.  The problem isn't therefore (only) with the partisan people putting forward solutions, it's with our debate-style political culture, where the only measure is which of the two sides gains political advantage with regard to the (too often uninformed and speciously pragmatic) center.

So when the question arises, for example, What should be do about our mucking up the planet?  The best our best newspapers can do is have a debate over whether pollution is bad–because, you know, you have to hear both sides! 

4 thoughts on “The undecided voter”

  1. Huh?  So I get that you think the issue is the format more than the views being expressed (or rather that the first constrains the second.)  I do see how the quoted author (Miller) is making a kind of appeal to common sense as a means of not really having to argue their position, but I'm just not seeing how that connects to the point you're trying to make about debate for debate's sake.
    I'm not even saying that I disagree with your conclusion, but by combining the (warranted) dismissal of Miller's argument with an attempt at making your own argument, it very nearly approaches a straw man.

  2. I think I'm saying that the center wants pragmatic solutions begs the questions against the alleged pragmatic solutions every party to the debate alleges they have.  The second point is that the problem with our debates is the format–not the fact that people disagree partisanly.  

  3. I find myself questioning quite a few of the author’s premises:
    “While independents are America's largest voting bloc, the left and right retain a stranglehold on the debate.”
    Yet if you ask independent voters how they lean – that is, if they lean toward the Democratic or Republican Party – they’re as predictable in their voting as are self-described Democrats and Republicans. Being “independent” means that you don’t want to declare your allegiance to one party or the other, but it does not mean that you’re either centrist or non-partisan.
    “[W]e need to reform Wall Street compensation so bankers can't get rich taking gambles whose losses get picked up by taxpayers (‘liberal’)”
    In what sense is lemon socialism (privatization of profits, socialization of losses) reasonably described as “conservative”? It would be easy to rephrase this policy point as a matter of personal responsibility (“Businesses need to accept responsibility for their actions, and the government should not be bailing out businesses that make bad choices”) – and, in fact, that’s what a lot of Republicans do when we’re talking about the auto industry.
    I expect that Mr. Miller would tell us that opposing the auto industry bailout,  also, was “conservative”, even though it’s the opposite of supporting the finance industry bailout. Why is Mr. Miller framing the issue in Republican terms? Is he defining as “liberal” anything that the Republican Party opposes, and as “conservative” anything that the Republican Party supports, without regard to either consistency or traditional definitions of conservatism?
    “Social Security's growth needs to be trimmed (‘conservative’)”
    Mr. Miller appears to be advocating for reducing future Social Security benefits. History suggests that adjustments to the amount of benefits, increased retirement ages, etc., are the bipartisan compromises that extend the life of Social Security. Where the clashes occur are when it comes to privatization of Social Security, or those factions on the political right that have been seeking to repeal it from day one. Were it not for Republican anti-tax pledges, I think we would already have a fix in place through a small tax increase and a slight increase in the age of eligibility for full benefits (and perhaps also the minimum retirement age).
    “[W]e need to scale back gold-plated public employee pensions (‘conservative’)”
    Perhaps the parenthetical should be (“California”)? Because it seems to me that most states, red or blue, have taken great strides to move public employees out of defined benefits plans and into defined contribution or self-funded retirement plans. Outside of the military or California, you’ll have a hard time finding a job these days that carries a defined benefits pension plan, let alone one that’s gold plated. I live in a pro-union "blue state" in which this battle appears to have ended in the 1980's.
    “[R]aise taxes in sensible ways to fix our fiscal woes (‘liberal’)”
    That strikes me as again allowing the Republican Party to frame the issue. The prior framing was of the “tax and spend liberal”, a type that is arguably both more responsible and more conservative than the “run up the deficit and spend” self-described conservatives who have recently occupied the White House.  Not unlike the Republican Party, Mr. Miller seems to want it both ways, first arguing that Britain’s “stunning new austerity budget” is something that would be favored by conservatives, but ignoring that it includes substantial tax hikes.
    Even if balancing the budget is deemed to be a conservative value, it’s not a value the Republican Party can reasonably claim to have internalized. Why are we still using the label “conservative” to describe the policies of a party that abandoned fiscal responsibility in favor of anti-tax mantras, even as it ran up the deficit? To quote Dick Cheney “Reagan proved deficits don't matter”. A Republican position, it would seem, but how is it a conservative position?

  4. Excellent points Aaron.  The numbskullery which "centrist" types rely on is the subject of the link in the latest post.  Well worth it. 

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