Intellectual Honesty and the Duopoly Dialogue

It is a conceit of duopoly ideology that the adversarial nature of the two-party system functions as a check on both parties, preventing excess and overreach by necessitating compromise, thus 'keeping them honest.' This remarkable turn of phrase found its way into commentaries at both The New Clarion and CNN. In an opinion piece arguing that it is 'time to move past the Palin distraction,' John Feehery writes at CNN that: "America has done as well as it has over the last couple hundred years because it has a vibrant two-party system that keeps the party in power honest." Similarly, in a post on 'Obama's conservative critics' at The New Clarion, Myrhaf writes: "In our two-party system, when one party is in power, the other party’s job is to keep the party in power honest." It is sometimes difficult to determine whether statements such as these are meant ironically or in earnest. But whatever the case may be in this regard, saying that the two-party system keeps Republicans and Democrats honest is like saying the war on drugs keeps violent gangs and their international cartels on the right side of the law.

In a post on 'political debate and the duopoly dialogue,' I noted that one of the primary presuppositions of our anemic political discourse is that the Republican and Democratic takes on a given issue exhaust that that issue. At Bonzai, Mike Farmer bemoans the predictability of this duopolized discussion and argues for "an objective approach" to the problems facing the country. He writes:
The only way people can get to political solutions is to call things as we see them after careful, objective consideration, not be defenders of a political party as if it's a game to see who wins at election time, just for the sake of winning and being part of the power prize. The country has been divided into two parties and in the meanwhile the government has grown more powerful and intrusive. An objective approach will end the game and allow grown-ups to seriously look for innovative ways to deal with the future. I'm hoping that the recent reports of independents growing in numbers means that objectivity is becoming a reality among those who care about our future. To my way of thinking, objectivity is the only means to assure intellectual honesty. [Emphasis added.]
The first task of such an approach would be overcoming the pre-existing notion of objectivity embedded in duopoly ideology. Perhaps the most glaring example of the latter is so-called 'balanced' journalism, according to which objectivity consists in nothing more than taking into account both the Democratic and Republican stances on the matter at hand. What results from the latter, as I noted in Abracadabra, is "akin to an ideological vanishing act. Each side reads its spin into the scene, and the truth disappears from the political press." Here one can begin to see the limitations of objectivity itself. In the context of the present information environment, the very notion of objectivity is relativized by political antagonism: both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, already make claims to objectivity. Paradoxically, an objective stance is already a facet of partisan perspectivalism, and objectivity becomes just one more perspective on a given issue. In some sense, though necessary, objectivity in politics may well be impossible given that a political stance is always engaged, even if only negatively. But the negative has its advantages as well, namely, independence.

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