Coming back to the U.S. after five months, it is startling to see how much copy and chatter the 2012 Presidential race is taking up. As we step as a nation once more into that breech, some perspective is in order to keep our expectations in check.
Political parties in the American electoral system do not belong in the business of generating ideas, policies, or ideologies. The business of the political party in the American electoral system is winning elections through fundraising, organization, and mobilization. They are finance and logistics, designed to divine the mood of the American people and, at most, articulating an electable vision based on the thinking of people outside of the rough and tumble of the political process.
Policies and ideologies crafted amid the the electoral process tend to pander to the transient mood of the electorate. For that reason, ideologies born in this crucible tend by necessity if not design toward demagoguery rather than wise or humane principles. Policies designed in the heat of political battle are too often little more than old style campaign promises, commitments made in the name of garnering the support of one or another interest group. There is neither time nor opportunity amidst the chaos of a campaign to consider the appropriateness or practicality of such measures.
Ideologies are best born of principles formed by forces and processes that to the political mind are glacial. Policies are best the products of calm, measured consideration of the challenges facing the city, the county, the state, or the nation, and the full scope of action available to elected officials.
None of this is to suggest that either ideologies or policies are best formed in dark, smokey rooms or the rarified but equally exclusive halls of the American academy. Clinical detachment is as poor a field for good policy as the hothouse of campaign politics.
Instead, it is time more of us in the electorate ignored the seductive narcotic of the political cycle and focused instead on principles, policies, and ideas. America needs less political junkies and more wonks. I would argue our founders expected a degree of wonkishness among the electorate that party machine politics has done its level best to beat clean out of us.
Good policy is like good food. If you want it done right, roll up your sleeves and get into the kitchen. C’mon in: there’s plenty of room.