26 February 2005
The Shape of Politics
To me, the American Political Spectrum is shaped like a dancer's butt. Imagine that the dancer is doing a split, and then laying his or her torso on the floor, with legs outstretched, and both butt and feet sticking up. Now imagine that you are also lying on the floor, viewing the dancer's posterior, or fundamental, aspect.
What you see is something like the graph sketched above. The extremists on either end of the political spectrum are represented by the toes — they are in a distinct minority, but they do stand up. Typically they are the ones who host and call in to the Talk Shows of the Right (aka the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy) and the Left (aka the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy Theorists). On the heels of this distribution (so low in numbers that they don't show up at this scale) are the real kooks, such as the American Communist Party on the Left, and the John Birch Society on the Right.
So who are those willing to devote their time and energy working for political candidates and parties? The ones who work without pay, stuffing envelopes, making cold calls, knocking on doors, distributing leaflets and bumper stickers, delivering yard signs, et cetera? These friends, are the people of the ankles and calves, possibly extending as far as the knees. If you are a political candidate, these are the people to whom you must "play" in order to win your primary election. And even though you must pull to the center (the butt cheeks, where repose the vast majority of voters) to win the general election, you can't leave your ankles behind. Because if you do, your campaign will have no "legs," no one working for it, and you will disappear from the political stage.
This brings us gluteal part of the political distribution, the twin loaves of the Great Divide. The vast majority of Americans hold views that are remarkably similar to one another. The majority of both Republicans and Democrats want the same things, such Liberty, Peace, and Prosperity — they just differ on how to get them. That is to say, just like the groove in your butt, the divide is deep, but not very wide.
But why is the divide so deep? Why is there almost nobody down in the hole there except former President Bill Clinton (the most centrist US President in recent times)? It seems to me that the media, looking for excitement, and manufacturing it if there isn't any, and the political strategists, looking to exploit division, and manufacturing it if there isn't any, have been working separately and together for a long time to develop and use aptly named "wedge issues" to pry us apart.
Now if the majority is letting the media and pols give us a world-historical wedgie, the majority can do something about it. We need to get off our butts and volunteer for candidates and parties. And when the candidates and parties get too extreme, we have to let them know it, by speaking up in policy and strategy meetings and conventions, and by walking out when necessary. But the majority are just too apathetic to do more than drag themselves to the polls once in a while. By voting, they prove themselves to be citizens, not merely subjects, but to them, democracy is still largely a spectator sport.
Religion comes into play because, historically, Christianity has not only been the glue that held Western Civilization together, but in the form of Protestantism and its Work Ethic, Christianity has been the engine that drove it. Moreover, Protestantism has arguably been the wellspring of Liberty in the West. Those on the Right, because of their concern with tradition, generally seek to preserve the West's legacy of faith. Those on the Left, on the other hand, see the West as particular, rather than universal. In order to spread Liberty, and other Western values, they seek to universalize themselves — to universalize the West. Thus the Left tends to diminish the particular, especially the particularity of Religion. The concern of the Left for Religion thus ranges from compromise with worldly concerns and Universalism on the part of the Center-Left (the Left Cheek) to outright antipathy toward Religion on the part of the extreme Left (the Left Foot).
So much for US politics. What of the rest of the West — Europe, the UK, Australia, Canada, Central and South America? President Bush, in remarks to President Putin said that a democracy must have a functioning opposition. I think the West is a democratic polity, with America as the current Party in Power, and Europe leading the Loyal Opposition. So far, despite all the angst on all sides, it seems to be working.
In the meantime, the politics of this website has floated up from the hole at the center, spreading like a mushroom cloud of flatulence above the fray. We call our political orientation "up" as in "uppity," because we are 90-degrees up, away, and out of the box (see below) from both the Left and and the Right. Our range of opinion spreads out over both cheeks, with a few stray molecules drifting even further.