Uncharted waters

I tweeted about this Robert Gates speech (as reported in the LA Times) earlier in the week, but it’s still worth a read. Gates (who was defence secretary under Bush then kept on by Obama) worries about the state of the US political system in ways that sound quite familiar to Brits. Indiviudally, paragraphs like that below sound like a request for a squashy, technocratic centrism:

more humility in victory is needed, and with that a search for broadly supported policies to address our problems—be they the national debt, illegal immigration, crumbling infrastructure, underperforming schools, or our budget deficit—policies and programs that can and must endure beyond one congress or one president to be successful.

But read as a whole, the speech is powerful. Gates identifies three fundamental problems with US political culture: increased partisanship in Congress due to gerrymandered congressional districts; the increasing tendency to “wave elections” that transform the political landscape and encourage constant revolutions in policy; and – most interesting – the rise of new media and the effect that has had on mainstream media. On this, he says:

Every point of view, including the most extreme, has a ready vehicle for wide dissemination. You can’t reverse history or technology, and this system is clearly more democratic and open, but there is also no question that it has fueled the coarsening and, I believe, the dumbing down of the national political dialogue.

As a result of these and other polarizing factors, the moderate center—the foundation of our political system and our stability—is not holding. Just at a time when this country needs more continuity, more bipartisanship, and more compromise to deal with our most serious problems, all the trends are pointing in the opposite direction.

It does sound pretty familiar.



Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.