Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Can Politics Self-Correct?

Here's today's counter-intuitive notion.
I'm not even sure I buy it, but it's worth thinking about.
Here goes.
Most systems have a self-correcting feature. Especially in nature. Too many bunny rabbits running around in your fields? Coyotes will take care of that and reintroduce something approaching equilibrium. (Okay, this may be a New Mexico-driven example, but you get the idea.)
Economics believes in this idea: supply and demand, balancing each other out.
Physics, too: for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction.
How about politics?
Is there a self-correcting mechanism in the American political system?
You could argue that you see it in the way the country votes in national elections: a Dwight David Eisenhower brings out a John F. Kennedy, a Lyndon Johnson produces a Richard Nixon who then makes necessary a Jimmy Carter, who in turn delivers Ronald Reagan, George Bush gives us Bill Clinton, the second Bush produces Barack Obama.
Just like the laws of economics or Newton's third law. There are laws of politics.
But do those laws govern what happens inside a political party?
Conventional wisdom today says that to win a party's presidential nomination, a candidate has to start off appealing to extreme groups. They're the ones who turn out for primaries and caucuses, the ones who contribute serious money and are willing to do the hard and tedious work of political organizing.
So veer hard to the extreme to get the nomination, then move to the middle in the general.
But what if?
What if there is a self-correcting mechanism for political parties?
What if, this year, when faced with more and more candidates who appear to be running from the extreme for the Republican nomination, the party discovers its self-correcting mechanism?
What if Republicans wake up one morning to discover that it's lunacy to turn their party over to candidates who don't accept evolutionary science? To candidates who reject evidence of human contribution to climate change?
Or who genuinely think that the national economy can be rejuvenated simply by revoking all environmental regulations?
Or who want to restore the gold standard?
Or who think that being gay is a form of "personal enslavement"?
What if Republicans veer to the middle during these upcoming primaries and re-discover the old Republican roots?
Here's why that's an interesting idea to consider.
First, in the middle of a pack of candidates who do espouse extreme views, there are a couple of Republicans who are very clearly signaling to voters that they are . . . reasonable. Civil. Pretty mainstream, actually.
Wouldn't it be healthy, for the Republicans as a party, and for the country as a whole, if Americans suddenly discovered, or re-discovered actually, an appetite for reasonableness.
What if the Republicans, of all things, became the party that espoused a return to old-school politics?
What if the Republicans, who can take credit for inventing modern scorched earth politics, actually walked away from that technique and announced to American voters that the Republican Party was going to campaign on a platform of sensible, mainstream, non-culture war policies?
The Republicans could claim to have invented a whole new law of politics--a law with as much power and appeal as anything in nature, economics, or physics.
And I'll bet they'd find a lot of people who would jump at the opportunity to see what it's like to have the debate over America's future suddenly sound . . . sane. Positive. Practical. Down to earth. And back to reality.
But like I said, I'm not even sure I buy it.
Conventional wisdom is so hard to shake. Still, I'll be watching.
Maybe we'll start seeing some coyotes roaming around in the Republican primaries.

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