December 10, 2007

The Power of the New

Political commentators tend to divide into two: cynics and optimists. It is too easy to predict new eras, and too hard to identify novelty when it arrives. In 1979 Margerat Thatcher's manifesto gave few clues of what a radical Prime Minister she was to become, in 1932 Roosevelt came in promising to balance the budget- the opposite is true as well, Edward Heath came in on a truly radical manifesto in 1970 and Harold Wilson promised to revive a sluggish Britain with the white heat of technology in the sixties. When people expect not merely policy novelty but a change in the political culture, its even harder to predict which elections and which personalities will bring about the closing of an old and opening of a new epoch- partly because a political culture turns upon not just the behaviour of one person, but the behaviour of several.

The next Presidential election in the States is often seen as one that will change the culture of politics in America. Andrew Sullivan for example definitely argues that depending on the candidate we could see a softer more analytical political culture. Sullivan argues that if you have a race between Obama and McCain, you'll see the development of a real civility in politics. I'm not sure he is entirely right. Obama and McCain are probably more civil than the Giulianis and Clintons of the world- but equally it isn't only the presidential candidate who influences these things. The tone of political dialogue on the web for instance is becoming more polarised and not less: that's especially true if one considers the development of blogging, Drudge and Kos are not going to put down their weapons on anyone's order and both are highly partisan. If Fox news stops calling Barack Obama Barack Hussein Obama or alleging he went to a Madrassah as a kid then perhaps I'd argue that a new era of non-partisanship is going to break.

This isn't to disaparage any of the candidates running for President in 2008- many of them on both sides have impressive accomplishments and records behind them both in the private and public sector- but the fundementals of American politics seem to me to be the same now as they were in 2000 when George Bush was supposed to reunite everyone behind compassionate conservatism. It is surely no coincedence that in every second term since Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1960, Presidential and Vice-Presidential aides have been arrested or questioned by the police. Congressional investigations of Presidential conduct have become de riguer and quite how a smily face in Washington will alter that I'm not sure. Perhaps some things could alter it- there might be ways to take the sting out of particularly contentious national issues- but I doubt that a new politics and a new dawn will really open whoever sits in the White House in two years time.


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Hope it's Obama, if it can't be Ron Paul.