Jim Manzi, whose well-reasoned positions on climate change keep me rethinking my own, produces an excellent practical guide to the political, social and economic divisions that bedevil our national destiny.
It's definitely worth reading in whole as it is about as even-handed as any effort I have read. My comments follow.
Both major political parties have internal factions that sit on each side of the divide between innovation and cohesion. But broadly speaking, Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been the party of innovation, and Democrats have been the party of cohesion.
Conservatives have correctly viewed the policy agenda of the left as an attempt to undo the economic reforms of the 1980s. They have therefore, as a rhetorical and political strategy, downplayed the problems of cohesion — problems like inequality, wage stagnation, worker displacement, and disparities in educational performance — to emphasize the importance of innovation and growth. Liberals, meanwhile, have correctly identified the problem of cohesion, but have generally proposed antediluvian solutions and downplayed the necessity of innovation in a competitive world. They have noted that America's economy in the immediate wake of World War II was in many ways simultaneously more regulated, more successful, and more equitable than today's economy, but mistakenly assume that by restoring greater regulation we could re-create both the equity and prosperity of that era.
The conservative view fails to acknowledge the social costs of unrestrained economic innovation — costs that have made themselves powerfully apparent in American politics throughout our history. The liberal view, meanwhile, betrays a misunderstanding of the global economic environment.
To grasp the difficulty of this moment for America, we must see more clearly the pain involved in economic innovation, the price we would pay for stifling innovation, and the daunting social obstacles that stand in the way of balancing the two. [More]
It is somewhat reductionist to posit a myriad of issues as "innovation versus cohesion" but any attempt to engage in a broad discussion needs to at least work with the largest concepts at hand. Manzi goes on to propose a handful of helpful steps to reduce the friction between these grand ideologies, but curiously avoids the most urgent debates: health care and war. In fact, it is hard to apply his suggested approaches to either, it seems.
Nonetheless, his point that common ground must be located it valid, I think. We cannot sacrifice either of these two principles for the other and remain a functional political entity. Unfortunately, this will require embracing an unfashionable tactic: compromise.
Convinced of ultimate vindication and/or committed to scuttle the ship before surrender of any degree, positions have been hardened on both extremes, but mostly the right, since compromise is a known "weakness" of the left. Consequently it seems to me solutions such as Manzi describes so articulately will remain academic until we have exhausted much of our substance on this particularly wasteful battlefield. In short, we haven't bled quite enough to find reason more attractive than belief.
Furthermore, I think that confrontation and conquest still stand as the shining goals rather than the more bland alternative of slowly making lives incrementally better. We're buying political lottery tickets - not depositing scrupulously in passbooks for our future.
His case is powerful and persuasive, and I find much I can agree with. I just don't think many are listening.