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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

 

POTUS calls for fixing our broken politics

by Tom Sullivan

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” President Obama said last night in his final Sate of the Union Address. He used much of the speech to try to defuse the distrust in basic institutions that is eating at the country's foundations, and to push back against demagoguery.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.

He appealed to better angels rather than inner demons and took a shot at tribal divisiveness and our broken politics:

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

And on our rigged system, Obama urged, “We’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” he said. Something to warm a field organizer's heart.

But our focus on this annual pageant and our quadrennial presidential election may miss where the real action is. “The civil rights movement taught the left the lesson that one could win in ‘one fell swoop’ by going for national level changes,” according to Frank Baumgartner, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina. Thomas Edsall looks this morning at how while Democrats have convinced themselves that Washington is where change comes from, Republicans have shifted their focus. They've gone 50 state strategy:

Away from the national level, the commitment of conservative donors to support a power shift in state government illustrates the determination of the right to eliminate regulatory and legal constraints on markets where their money has proven most productive.

Attempts to control the White House have become far more risky with the rise of a strong Democratic presidential coalition. In 2012, conservative groups put $700 million in a bid to win the presidency, two and a half times as much as liberal groups, but Obama still won decisively.

In a sense, they took a cue from Howard Dean, focused on the states and built local infrastructure. Edsall gives some credit to the left's efforts to fight back. Still,

While the presidential race captures our attention – and as the left has withdrawn from low-level combat — conservatives have overseen the drawing of legislative and congressional districts that will keep Republicans in power over the next decade. In this way, through the most effective gerrymandering of legislative and congressional districts in the nation’s history, the right has institutionalized a dangerous power vacuum on the left.

Our next Democratic president won't fix that. We have to.