October 7, 2003

Third Wave Politics

Roger L. Simon writes:

The media still do not get it. They are reacting to the size of Schwarzenegger victory like the Soviet nomenklatura did to the end of communism. They can hardly believe it is happening. Well I have news for them—something much bigger than they know, probably than Schwarzenegger himself knows, is going on here. We are not witnessing a Republican victory. The Republican Party in California remains a minority party. Most of the Republican true believers voted for McClintock.

What we are witnessing is the beginning—the early movement--in the death of the two-party system as we know it. This is a revolt of the pragmatic center.

I hope Roger is right. The pragmatic center is surely where I belong right now. And this is increasingly true for most of my 30-something friends, whether they started out as liberals (as is usually the case) or as conservatives.

The Democratic Party is now more unpopular than at any time since before the New Deal. And that was seventy years ago. Where I live, in Oregon, the most popular political “party” is Independent. Both the Republicans and Democrats are rightly considered wing-nuts or hacks. Roger may be right. It’s possible that the two-party system is a relic from another era. And by that I don’t mean the pre-911 era. I mean the time before the high-tech information revolution.

The two-party system worked nicely during what futurist Alvin Toffler calls “Second Wave” or Industrial civilization. But the “Third Wave” post-industrial high-tech information civilization is a world apart. Now is not the time of mass movements and conformity. This is an era of diversity and specialization, of individualism and niche groups. The world is becoming increasingly complex, and it is just not possible to reduce everything to an ideologically binary system.

Yesterday in the bookstore I leafed through Al Franken’s new book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Now, I like Al Franken just fine. He’s a decent enough guy, and he can often be funny. I bought Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot when it came out, and I enjoyed his skewering of the GOP’s most prominent blowhard. And though he (rightly I’m sure) makes short work of Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter in his newest release, I just don’t have much interest in the partisan party line game anymore. It feels tinny and out of date, and in the final analysis, it’s boring. I can no longer learn anything useful from spending my time with this sort of thing. It’s politics reinvented as sports. Our team versus their team. Whatever.

The most interesting non-fiction “current events” books are not being written by the Frankens and Coulters of the world; they are written by people who are not easily ideologically categorized and who don’t reduce everything to bumper sticker slogans and talking points. Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave comes to mind, as does Nonzero by Robert Wright and The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel. And for those interested in international issues, you can hardly do better than Step Across This Line by Salman Rushdie and Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman. Berman, Rushdie, and Wright are unconventional liberals, and Toffler and Postrel are centrists.

Excessive bipartisanship leads to a de-facto one-party state. But that is a very different thing from non-partisanship, which leads to a no-party state. I am more and more convinced that this is exactly what we need.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 7, 2003 9:12 PM
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