It’s a long flight back from Tel Aviv, so I decided to use some of my time to react to Nicholas Kristof’s most recent NY Times column, since it nicely illustrates some of what I was saying in my last post. The column is entitled “America’s Broken Politics.” Kristof is disturbed at the cynicism about politics and politicians that seems to have become so widespread in this country in reaction to dysfunction in Washington.
As an op ed columnist, Kristof is fully expected to express his opinions, so he isn’t compelled to observe the same canons of objectivity that guide news reporters. And yet he is not free of the ethos of objectivity. While he drops a number of hints as to what has broken our political system, he never gets around to putting it all together into a clear statement of what he thinks has caused the mess. I think it’s because he doesn’t want to sound partisan, and outright partisanship is something even an opinion columnist generally avoids.
So, for example, he says it would be a good thing for President Obama to schmooze more with Republican Congressional leaders, even though he’s skeptical it would accomplish anything. After all, he points out, polls show that significant portions of the Republican base think Obama was not born in this country and about one-fifth think he could be the anti-Christ. (He doesn’t explicitly make the connection, but his point, presumably, is that Republican leaders can hardly be expected to be reasonable with Obama when so much of their base is gripped by anti-Obama paranoia.) He cites the work of political scientists Poole, McCarty and Rosenthal demonstrating that our political polarization is asymmetric: it’s due mostly to the Republican Party moving far to the right. He mentions the Republican determination to block Obama from the day he took office, including Republican governors’ preventing their own citizens from accessing Medicaid expansion. “I see that as obstructionism,” he tells us.
In short, all of Kristof’s observations point to a simple, single explanation of our broken politics: a radicalized Republican Party that routinely scorns the norms that have traditionally kept political conflict manageable in the US. It really is that simple, but Kristof can’t quite say it out loud; he just drops hints. Kristof is undoubtedly a liberal Democrat. He enjoys the security and prestige of a perch at the Times. If even he is that inhibited, it should hardly be surprising that our media more generally fail to deal realistically with Republican radicalism.