The Perils of “Reaching Across the Aisle”

According to a Pew Research Center poll, nearly half of Americans admire political leaders who, rather than making compromises, “stick to their positions,” a result that arguably suggests a general desire for consistency and principles. Though it isn’t at all clear what kinds of principles citizens suppose their nominal representatives ought to aspire to, it at least seems to be the case that the dissolute glad-handing euphemized as “compromise” in the Beltway has grown repulsive to many if not most Americans.

In spite of this frustration with Washington’s underhanded methods, media elites continue to bewail what they portray as bitterly contentious partisanship. In the words of the Christian Science Monitor’s Francine Kiefer, “[s]ome of America’s problems are too serious for political intransigence.” Hardball’s Chris Matthews likewise complains of this claimed radicalization of American political life, maintaining that the dolts in flyover country have been led astray by extremists who deface the erstwhile congeniality and decorum between politicians. Among the many assumptions concealed in the contentions of the Kiefer and Matthews types is the idea — derisible to anyone paying even the least attention — that our twin political parties are embroiled in some kind of ongoing, high stakes rivalry based on real, substantive disagreement.

The truth, that Republicans and Democrats represent the same statist orthodoxy, is decidedly more mundane and doesn’t lend itself very readily to the kinds of linguistic overkill used by the mainstream news to present the nonissues of electoral politics. Rather than the hostility-mired war zone lambasted by authoritarians rhapsodizing over the virtues of political compromise, this country’s political process is a paragon of back room collusion, of the connivance between power elites.

And, for some reason, we’re meant to prefer this to the genuine, unaffected, ideological confrontation dreamt up by the mainstream, as if the established “debate” would suffer any idea that actually was fresh or in any way subversive. In the same way that America’s civic lore spuriously pits Big Business against Big Government where the two are actually quite friendly, there is systematic denial in this country about the basic nature of the two-party system. This clueless belief in meaningful inter-party antagonism occasions another, related error, that if opposing politicians could put aside their perceived bickering their collective sage wisdom would overbear any problem society might face, the state of course possessing the magic bullets that no nonviolent institution could.

In this way, the population is diverted from the actual source of the plague afflicting society, the state, instead operating under the misbelief that hard-liners, in their stubbornness, are obstructing moderate solutions. Fortunately, even if they have not yet discovered the right principles to stand by, Americans may be washing their hands of the idea that being dedicated to principles — being “radical” or “extreme” — is something to be demonized, as we’re so often assured by Chris Matthews and his ilk. “America faces serious problems,” notes Kiefer. “They will need both parties working together to solve them.” The state, though, does not solve problems, but manufactures them in a vicious cycle of extortion that holds one crisis after another over our heads.

When the parties “work together,” which is indeed their custom, the victors are not ordinary, working people who want affordable healthcare and decent jobs; they are corporate executives and government agency czars, elites who turn to their advantage the lie that we live in the most polarized, partisan period in all of American history. If there are differences between Republicans and Democrats, they are superficial at best and artificial at worst, marginalizing and excluding everything branded as outside the norm. The only avenue to solving society’s troubles is the breakdown of politicians’ ability to “reach across the aisle” and compromise in screwing us over. Free individuals working within voluntary relationships — an idea considered extreme and based on the uncompromising belief in self-ownership — are well qualified to, and perfectly capable of, attending the maladies of human life.

As observed by Noam Chomsky, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” There is nothing to gain from being “moderate,” at least in the demotic sense of that word, and there is nothing to lose from being extreme and inflexible in the pursuit of total freedom. Next time you hear a talking head lament the unwillingness of radicals to “play ball,” consider what cooperation between agents of subjugation and theft really means.

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