Ezra Klein's essay in Vox that I found dismaying affected others in similar and divergent ways. This is Will Wilkinson (I think) from the Economist*.
So we're screwed? Mr Klein offers only this cryptic sign off: "If American politics is going to improve, it will be better structures, not better arguments, that win the day".The outrage of gerrymandering, of the filibuster, of the overrepresentation of thinly-populated states in the Senate, of lax campaign-finance regulations, are all preoccupations of Mr Klein and others similarly taken by the romance of ideal democratic procedures, and there is certainly a great deal to say in favour of "better structures". But is there a path to "better structures" that does not run through "better arguments"? Alas, no. My sense is that the impulse behind Vox is a profoundly honourable one based on what Mr Klein at the outset of this piece calls the "More Information Hypothesis". The hypothesis is that in the presence of more, better and more lucidly presented information, the democratic public will improve the performance of its signature deliberative tasks. The design of Vox, especially its innovative use of evergreen explanatory "cardstacks", would seem to be the More Information Hypothesis embodied. Yet Mr Klein's introductory essay at the helm of his new publication appears to debunk the hypothesis on which the entire enterprise seems to be founded. If it's really true, as Mr Klein would have us believe, that we are basically deaf to information we'd rather not hear, no matter how clearly and colourfully conveyed, then what's the point of Vox? 'Vox' is of course Latin for 'voice'. Mr Klein's strange inaugural essay may seem an inauspicious beginning, but I detect a note of hope. If there is one force capable of combating "identity-protective cognition" it is the rare and precious disposition Keats called "negative capability"—"when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason..." Politics makes us stupid in no small part because of its incompatibility with negative capability—with the tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty, and simple not-knowing that earnest truth-seeking requires. Now, there is more than a hint of "irritable reaching" in Mr Klein's call for "better structures"; he can't seem to reside wholly comfortably in the realm of uncertainties. Still, Mr Klein did have the audacity to launch a new publication presumably meant to shore up American democracy through access to better information with a lengthy meditation on the pointlessness of doing just that. That's negative capability! Coming as it does from our nation's capital—that dark eye of "a perfect storm for making smart people very stupid"—Mr Klein's unexpected plunge into the bracing waters of self-doubt comes as a bright and promising sign for Vox and its audience. [More]
I realize this has ever been thus, and appreciate your historical references, but what may be different this time is our ability to reinforce irrational thinking is getting a big assist from the self-definable information flows, from specific reliably biased TV channels to one-note websites.
Friday on Agritalk for example, Jim Weisemeyer and I joined Mike for a free-for-all discussion that, of course, leaned to Jim's expertise - politics. Jim is not a big Obama fan, and opined the big problem with Congress was the President's "failure to lead". That like Clinton, he should be talking to congresspersons across the aisle. When I asked him who would possibly be interested in going behind GOP leadership backs to craft a deal, he replied vaguely, "northeastern moderates"
Seriously - Olympia Snow came to mind, but that's where it stops. The list of moderate Republicans is not long. He mentioned PA congress members, but I checked the list and didn't see any reps who wouldn't immediately face a TP challenge if they tried that, and Pat Toomey doesn't strike me as someone ready to take on McConnell to deal with the Pres.
Moreover, when did it become the president's job to make congress do their job? Better still, how's that going to happen 'zactly when we don't have any money to throw around, because Congress is deeply concerned about the deficit and making it one of the minor issues (after Obamacare, Obamacare, and Obamacare) in this election. He used Clinton as an example, but that was long ago and far away politically. There are no "Bob Doles" or "Richard Lugars" under the dome. You might as well cite LBJ for an analogy.
Moreover, Obama's low approval is the central tool in the entire Republican strategy this year. I can't see anybody in their right-wing mind wanting to be seen shaking hands with Obama.
Then it struck me, I'm probably missing some facts because of my filtering system, just like Ezra described in the essay. And for the life of me, I can't argue the other side. Can anybody else outline a scenario where the president crafts a deal with congress on say, immigration, that would last longer than the Camp Tax Reform plan?
How good is my information biasing mechanism?
*Yeah - I coughed up for a digital subscription.