The Two-Party System and the Global Warfare State

At Informed Comment, influential blogger Juan Cole asks "why our Afghanistan war dead don't seem to be news," and concludes that the deadlock of the two-party system is at the root of public acquiescence to the global warfare state:
I am sad to report that I have concluded that the relative silence on our Afghanistan war dead has to do with the workings of our two-party system. Americans are great followers of sports where two teams oppose one another. They become fierce partisans of one team over the other. They have the same approach to economic life (iPhone vs. Android, Kindle vs. Google ebooks, X-Box vs. Playstation, etc.) They join a “team” in their minds and grow absolutely scathing about the other side. Republicans and Democrats are teams for them. It may be the real reason a third party is so hard to mount; it does have to do with the first past the post electoral system, but it may be also that you can’t root for more than one team at a time, so it is more convenient to have just two parties if you have a binary mindset.

So here’s the reason the whole bloody Afghanistan war is off the radar: it isn’t a partisan issue. The Republican Party, except for a few Liberatarians, is solidly in favor of the war and would apparently like to go on fighting it for decades if only they could. But the Democrats cannot oppose the war (as they eventually opposed the Iraq War) because their own president has implemented a surge and is dedicated to prosecuting the war. The rank and file Democrats may not be very happy about Obama’s adoption of the war, but they are loathe to attack their own party leader (i.e. many of them feel as though they have to support their team). . . .

Since no advantage would at the moment accrue to either Team from opposing the Afghanistan War, there is little opposition to it. And since it isn’t a partisan debate, the television reporters in particular are mostly uninterested in it. Even most print editors don’t put it on the front page very often . . .

6 comments:

Samuel Wilson said...

I don't buy this one. If Cole were right, we would have ignored World War 2 because our remaining in it didn't depend on the outcome of the FDR-Dewey presidential campaign of 1944. On the other hand, Afghanistan may simply be too small-time a war for modern Americans to stay interested in it, or partisanship has somehow grown worse since FDR's time -- a possibility that shouldn't be ruled out.

sovereignthink said...

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sovereignthink.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/a-nation-divided-dem-v-rep-a-nation-united-the-democratic-republican-party/

-sovereingthink

davidpsummers said...

I have to agree with Samuel in that I don't buy the premise. The reason they don't make the news much is that they are so low. The fact is that we still loose more people due to non-combat causes (such as accidents and such) than we loose due to combat in Afghanistan.

d.eris said...

Cole's assumption seems to be that the pro-war deadlock is a relatively new phenomenon (or at least fundamentally conditioned by today's political climate/atmosphere/dynamics), an effect of the partisan predispositions of today's two-party statists in government and the media, and not a structural effect of the two-party system as such.

Nancy Hanks said...

I think Cole makes some interesting points, however, my problem (since we're having problems here) is this statement about independents:

(The independents don’t ruin this analysis because in a two-party system there aren’t really very many true independents, there are only part-time Democrats and Republicans, a group that swings between the two, just as some sports fans may abandon a long-cherished team if it languishes at the bottom of the rankings for too long, and some other team emerges that is more exciting).

With 40% of the American electorate considering itself independent and anti-partisan, and another 3-6% third party, clearly we have a partisan dictatorship that disallows full expression of the people's hopes and desires.

Therein lies the rub.
NH

DLW said...

But Nancy, a significant chunk of that 40% still vote in a reliably partisan manner. Perhaps it's strategic voting, but it's not strictly speaking "independent".

My view is that the political-economy of war is simple: the few benefit at the expense of the many and that when popular democracy falters we are more prone to go to war. Now, we can have a two-party dominated system that is more competitive and have better checks against going to war, but right now our system is hardly competitive/healthy.

The issue then is whether electoral reform will help to deter future wars and to end existing wars sooner? I believe that the use of multi-seated elections in local elections would have such an impact, simply by making more elections competitive and stymieing the influence of $peech from the Military-Indusrial-Congressional Complex. Competitive state reps elections would spill over to make winner-take-all nat'l reps elections competitive by increasing voter turnout and the growing import of smaller local third parties that wd vote strategically in most congressional elections.

 
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