While the GOP?circus fought for the honor of representing Puerto Rico as "El Presidente," we wanted to focus on some scholarly journalistic discussion that sheds some light -- though, in our opinion, not enough -- on the inherent failures of U.S. party politics.
Washington Post political correspondent Ezra Klein shook up the erudite politisphere last week when, in an essay for The New Yorker and then in a reprise during guest-hosting duties on MSNBC's "Up With Chris Hayes", he put forth the mysteriously uncommon yet surprisingly obvious assertion that presidential speechifying can actually have a net negative effect on administration success, as opposition politicians are actually heavily incentivized to ensure the failure of their across-the-aisle rivals.
Klein sought to dispute the historical wisdom that "the power of the president is the power to persuade," arguing that grand speeches from the executive actually do his platform a disservice, since the other party cannot reasonably be expected to offer "bipartisan" support to a group of people whose successes inversely affect their own re-elections. The bigger deal a president makes of any one issue -- witness, in recent months, Obama's failed pursuit of the American Jobs Act; or, in years past, President Bush's colossal efforts and, ultimately, failure at privatizing Social Security -- the more vigorously opposition lawmakers are encouraged to oppose it. In this polarized environment, policy wins for one party can be directly interpreted as failures for the other; so pols stymie the efforts of their rivals regardless of any potential benefits.
Klein pays particular attention to the way in which a president's message can backfire, as opposition figures are put in the clear position of 1: supporting their rivals and, thereby, losing; or 2: torpedoing rival legislation and improving their own political futures. But we think this analysis, while certainly interesting, misses the wider implications: that U.S. politicians personally benefit from weakening America, when to help the country would mean also helping party rivals and hurting themselves.
The two-party system has many flaws, but none quite so damning as this: Americans suffer as a direct result of the petty machinations of our two grand political parties. This is how, under Obama, Republicans have suddenly reversed their beliefs on, for instance, the insurance mandate in health care, originally developed by right-wing think tanks and backed by all manner of establishment R's: To support it would mean supporting the president, so they thought up reasons to dislike it. And similar things happened with cowardly Democrats under Bush.
So long as we vote for D's and R's, we suffer. Because no matter which party wins, Americans inevitably lose.