In a column in today's Washington Post (advertised as "No More Mr. Nice-President"), Dana Milbank reports that he was led by President Obama's press conference yesterday to "wonder whether Obama could achieve more if he could establish personal connections with Republicans on Capitol Hill." This was a propos of a question by a New York Times reporter about Obama's supposedly not "socializing" more.
Good grief. Has Milbank really so little clue about what's been happening in recent years? These Republicans are not looking for peace and cooperation. Remember? They attacked even their own ideas when the President proposed them. Fighting is what they are about.
The President's response to the "socializing" question rightly rejected the notion that more warmth and schmoozing might bring peace in our times. But the president's take on the nature of the problem also missed the deeper reality. The difficulties in negotiations, Mr. Obama said, "have to do with some very stark differences in terms of policy."
Would that it were so. But if it were about policy, the Republicans would have supported the Obama initiatives in the first term that were based on Republican ideas. Again, making a fight over everything is the essence of this political dynamic.
These Republicans are not concerned, for example, about debt and deficits. If they were, they'd be eager to slash a clearly quite bloated defense budget. They'd not have doubled the national debt under their own president (W) during reasonably good economic times. They just take "positions" in terms of policy that provide the cover for the conflict that is really the expression of what's driving the political right.
We should not get overly distracted by the "extreme" positions on issues that the Republicans take. The root of the problem is not "extremism." "Extremism," rather, is a means to the end, and the end is conflict. By taking "extreme" positions, and by rejecting "compromise" as an intolerable acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the "enemy," today's Republican Party can assure that there will be only fights, not agreements arrived at cooperatively.
Intractable and chronic fighting, in turn, is a means to disable the American political system from navigating a wise and constructive course through the challenges we face. And the end of that disabling of our political system is the infliction of damage and degradation on those structures in our world that are constructive and life-enhancing.
So what is all this destructiveness about? How can the root of the problem be some sort of purpose to damage and degrade the best parts of our civilization?
In my campaign, I repeatedly spoke about the "sick and broken spirit" that had taken possession of the once-respectable Republican Party. It is at THAT level --not at the level of interpersonal bonds among the players, nor at the level of actual policy concerns-- that the destructive political dramas of our times in America are being played out.
That level may not be intuitively obvious. It may not be easy to wrap our minds around what can be meant, in a naturalistic perspective, by speaking in such terms as a "spirit" that is driving a "force" that's operating destructively in our political system.
But I am convinced that what is driving this pathology in American civilization right now needs to be understood in some such terms.
The redemption of America is going to require a kind of "exorcism" of this dark force that's arisen on the political right, and achieving that is going to require some understanding of what we're up against.
In the days, weeks, months, and even years ahead, I intend to develop and share --piece by piece-- this framework for understanding our American crisis. Among the the systemic dynamics that drive human history, as I will try to show, one of these --and the one perhaps most central to our present crisis-- entails the conflict that plays out in civilized systems between two sets of forces, one set being constructive and the other set destructive.
That is one of my goals in the ambitious project now unfolding on my campaign Facebook page. Each entry in that project, appearing on that site, is headed by the title "SWINGING FOR THE FENCES."
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. He is the author of various books including The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution, Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds that Drive Us to War, and Sowings and Reapings: The Cycling of Good and Evil in the Human System.
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