Friedman and change
Is the American system broken?
Tom Friedman’s latest column is a bit of a polemic about the current state of American politics, which he compares with the “poisonous” environment in Israel that led to Rabin’s assassination. Friedman writes:
But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system. Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world.
Friedman argues that these factors have “overwhelmed the genius of the American system.” However, it’s not clear to me that most of these developments do anything to change the fundamental problem which was addressed at the founding: the dangers of factions competing bitterly against each other for poltiical control. While the tools may have changed, the problem has not.
The “checks and balances” of which every high school student are familiar curb the power of factions by, first, significantly slowing the policy process and, second, by ensuring some level of constitutional review over laws passed. This system is, contra Friedman, still in place — the glacial pace of health care reform is one example.
What Friedman is really getting at is whether we have the right system set up, as it might be working too well in maintaining the status quo.