Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Fundamental changes in public discourse.

Three recent New York Times pieces have provided a summary of the disintegration of public discourse since the era of Lyndon Johnson. David Carr notes the demise of a short-lived column in The Washington Post on Washington's social life which is symbolic of the passing of the old paradigm, in which
...people with different points of view would assemble in various salons of Georgetown and set aside their differences over an Old Fashioned before the coq au vin was even served...Now the butter knife has been replaced by a machete. People with opposing political points of view are less likely to eat with the loyal opposition at night than to try to dine on them in a quick hit on MSNBC or Fox News... “The dinner party at Ben and Sally’s or Mrs. Graham’s circa 1975 was The Note or Mike Allen blast e-mail of its day,” said David Von Drehle, editor at large for Time and a former editor of The Post’s Style section..."You would go there to see people, try out ideas, figure out what was the interesting next take on the day’s news and where the hot story was headed. But now, you find all that out just by opening up your laptop in the morning.”
Articles by both John Harwood and Paul Krugman chronicle the almost perfect polarization that now characterizes the political scene. Harwood:
...when President Lyndon B. Johnson won passage of Medicare, most of the Democratic majority in Congress and half of the Republicans backed him...Those Democratic and Republican parties no longer exist. The kinds of Southern Democrats who resisted Johnson’s agenda and Northern Republicans who supported it have switched parties; longstanding differences between liberals and conservatives are now reinforced by party affiliation, not blurred by it...What democrats and republicans share is a dedication to party unity as an overriding imperative — and a relentlessly improving track record of achieving it.
And Krugman focuses on:
...the incredible gap that has opened up between the parties. Today, Democrats and Republicans live in different universes, both intellectually and morally...Democrats believe .. what textbook economics says: that when the economy is deeply depressed, extending unemployment benefits not only helps those in need, it also reduces unemployment...the Congressional Budget Office says that aid to the unemployed is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, as measured by jobs created per dollar of outlay. [The view of the second ranking senate Republican, in contrast is that:]... unemployment relief “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”

...the difference between the two universes isn’t just intellectual, it’s also moral...How can the parties agree on policy when they have utterly different visions of how the economy works, when one party feels for the unemployed, while the other weeps over affluent victims of the “death tax”?..bipartisanship is now a foolish dream...Someday, somehow, we as a nation will once again find ourselves living on the same planet. But for now, we aren’t. And that’s just the way it is.

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