Why American Politics Has Gone Nuts
Tibor R. Machan
by Tibor R. Machan
you noticed? There doesnít appear to be any room for civil discourse
in politics these days. There is no issue about which the disputing
parties merely argue the other side just has to be vicious, lying,
deceiving, cheating, wishing simply to hurt some people, moved by
mendacity while we are, of course, pure of heart. There isnít a
discussion of the merits, the pros and the cons, only of who is
evil, who is not.
the social security reform issue. Bush supporters see their opponents
as caring nothing about the upcoming plight of young people, while
his opponents must be uncaring toward old people. That seems to
be the essence of it now. Or the war in Iraq. It isnít about whether
the policy is sound, but what Bush and Cheney must be gaining from
it, or why opponents must all be Saddamites, lovers of a tyrant.
I have an idea why things have gotten to be so acrimonious in American
politics. It concerns the utter corruption of the nature of American
Americaís founders embarked upon establishing the country, they
laid out a vision about its basic ideals and ideas. They so stated
this in the Declaration of Independence. The country was to be based
on certain fundamental principles about human nature, namely, that
everyone has, simply as a human being, certain unalienable rights to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, among others and that
it is governmentís function to secure these rights. The rest is
all details important ones, admittedly, but details nonetheless.
Itís about how to do this basic task, not about what is to be done.
That latter issue had been largely settled government was supposed
to deal with crime and foreign aggression, little else. For this
it has to have certain powers which were spelled out in the Constitution
but otherwise it was the people you, I, and everyone else in the
country who was to be free to do what he or she chooses and all
our problems were to be solved by us, not the government, which
had its task set: keeping the peace.
admittedly, this is to look at the matter a bit simply. But still
the picture is basically right. The Founders wanted a free country
with a government of strictly limited powers for the purpose of
securing our rights to be free to do what we needed to do in our
highly diverse lives.
back then it was clear that America is a country with a highly diverse
citizenry. In 1798 a young man, J. M. Holley, wrote to his brother
that "the diversity of dress, manners, & customs is greater
in America, than in any other country in the world, the reason of
which, is very obvious. It is considered as a country where people
enjoy liberty and independence; of course, persons from allmost
every nation in the world, come here as to an assylum from oppression;
Each brings with him prejudices in favor of the habits of his own
countrymen...." (Quoted in "Endpaper," The New
York Times Book Review, November 5, 1995, p. 46).
what is national politics to be about in such a place? It is, to
quote that failed presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, to be
"about competence," thatís all. Who are to administer
the system best? It wasnít to be about whether the country is to
go Right or Left or Christian or Muslim or socialist or capitalist.
None of that was to be debated because that debate was over once
the fundamentals were laid out and country had been founded.
this is now all gone. The party politics we have is not about fielding
candidates for a specific job but about whether America will have
this or that kind of government big, small, democratic, welfare
statist, liberal, conservative or whatever.
wasnít supposed to be this way at all. But because now the dispute
is about what kind of country we should have, party politics has
degenerated into combat, with hostile camps peddling their respective
conceptions of society and dismissing opponents as enemies instead
of treating them as contestants. And that is not what American politics
set out to be, not in its essence.
him mail] is
R. C. Hoiles Professor of business ethics at Chapman University,
Orange CA. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and
advises Freedom Communications, Inc., on libertarian issues. He
is author of 30+ books, most recently, Objectivity:
Recovering Determinate Reality in Philosophy, Science, and Everyday
Life and his memoir, The
Man Without a Hobby.
© 2005 Tibor Machan