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August 16, 2011

By Larry Kilbourne

The Failure of Our Politics

Charles Krauthammer’s recent column in The Washington Post, “The System Works,” was notable mainly for what it omitted by fiat: the degree to which our political system in fact is failing.  In his view, the latter assessment is simply that of the ‘losers’ in the process.  But this is not a partisan assessment.

Politics is not, to invert the famous maxim of Carl von Clausewitz, the 18th century Prussian military strategist whose influence extended as far as Vietnam, ‘war by other means.’  Indeed, when and if it becomes this, it is the sign of a degraded state whose citizens no longer cherish what they hold in common over what divides them.  That should be regarded as the functional definition of a failed state.

And yet, this is precisely what Krauthammer celebrates.

Politics, in theory and practice, has always been about finding common ground which allows for compromise from competing interest groups.  This is probably the distinguishing feature of politics from war, which assumes no common ground, no compromise, and takes a winner-take-all mentality, at least in modern warfare.

Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, this has become the profile of politics as practiced in America.  Compromise is regarded as treason, and entrenched, immoveable views have come to be welcomed as evidence of political purity and a litmus test for political candidates.

Hence, our current political stalemate, in which divided houses in Congress have opted to hold each other hostage rather than seek common ground.  According to Krauthammer’s view, this is as it should be.   But on this position, politics is war by other means – a winner takes all conflict, in which compromise and any conception of a “common good” among our citizenry is absent.

It is an impoverished view of politics, and a diminished vision for America.

Recently former Senator Alan Simpson was interviewed about his role in The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, whose recommendations for fiscal reform our current Congress politely ignored.

He stated, to paraphrase, that legislators who could not compromise without compromising their principles should NOT be legislating.

That was a profound statement about politics and the art of legislating – in theory and practice – that both parties have lost sight of.

More distressingly, it is an indictment of politics as it is being practiced in this country today.

It implies that that we are more self-interested than concerned about the very nation that makes such self-interest possible.  And it puts our elected officials at the center of each individual’s self-interest, rather than our nation.

This should be regarded as a very disturbing sign for our future – as a people and a nation - Krauthammer to the contrary.