Saturday, May 20, 2006

Bipolar America

Staunch Republican and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, in an essay last fall, said the following, with a sense, as she put it, that "we're at the end of something:"
"I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now … a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. … It's beyond, 'The president is overwhelmed.' The presidency is overwhelmed."

Much as it almost makes me choke to say so, I think Peggy Noonan is on to something. Americans are steeped in the twin mantras of "get-it-while-you-can" and "do-it-if-it-feels-good" as delivered by the commercial media, which conflicts with the strong streak of puritanism that runs like an underground stream in our collective subsconscious. We want it all, but feel guilty about it at the same time. In sum, the effect is that our culture is bipolar. I think that most Americans, whether right or left-leaning, view themselves as centrists. "Don't rock the boat" even if the boat is leaking. While we dislike politicians whose incompetance and superficial messianic willfulness courts national and international disaster, we loathe those that 1) suggest we change our ways and 2) lose elections. The "comeback kid" Bill Clinton succeeded in bouncing back after defeat because of his uncanny way of connecting with people (or seeming to) and his pragmatic - and decidedly centrist - approach to policy. While the majority of my fellow citizens collectively sense that change is needed in some amorphous way, they revolt at the suggestion that they individually must change their ways. Sadly, I do not believe that "centrist" politics offers much hope for the profound problems that out society faces in the decades ahead.

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