Appearance or Reality?

We still have voters who call themselves “Democrats” and “Republicans.”  Congress is still formally divided along party lines.  But do these labels define a reality?  Perhaps, once again, we are trapped by habits of thought – or by conventions that have become obsolete without our having grasped the change.

A few weeks ago, in the wake of Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, Drew Westen, the psychologist-turned-political consultant, faulted Obama on the Huffington Post for having tried to be bi-partisan.  “We have competing ideas in a democracy — and hence competing parties — for a reason. To paper them over and pretend they do not exist . . . is an abdication of responsibility.”  (See, “Obama Finally Gets His Victory For Bipartisanship.”)

Westen’s point is that Obama should have combated the Republicans more vigorously.  His failure to do so now saddles him with the requirement to work with Republicans, a need he didn’t have before.

Westen is not alone in deploring Obama’s lack of aggressive leadership.  But thanks to the splintering of the Democrats and the conflicting interests they represent, the health care bill that the Senate was so close to passing had been sliced up in dozens of ways.  To be sure, there actually was a bill in the works, before the Massachusetts election, but even most of the Democrats were unhappy with it.

On the other hand, who are the Republicans?  According to a Daily Kos poll:  “a large portion of GOP voters think that President Obama is racist, socialist or a non-US citizen.”

Some of the particulars:

39 percent believe Obama should be impeached,

36 percent believe he was not born in the United States,

31 percent believe Obama is a “Racist who hates White people” — the description once adopted by Fox News’s Glenn Beck.

63 percent think he is a socialist,

24 percent believe he wants “the terrorists to win,”

23 percent of Republicans believe that their state should secede from the United States, 19 percent aren’t sure, 58 percent said no.

53 percent of Republicans said they believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama.

Markos Moulitsas, founder and publisher of Daily Kos, commented: “This is why it’s becoming impossible for elected Republicans to work with Democrats to improve our country.  They are a party beholden to conspiracy theorists who . . . already want to impeach him despite a glaring lack of scandal or wrongdoing.” (See, Daily Kos, “Research 2000 Poll.”)

Bipartisanship requires two parties to work, but perhaps we have more of an illusion of parties today than a truly functioning set.  Few prominent politicians want to come out and say that the system is not working.  But perhaps what we don’t know we know is that, actually, it’s not.