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Politics Begins in the Home

Politics Begins in the Home

Dear Reader — 

“Politics is broken,” proclaims a recent article taking stock of Thursday’s explosive Kavanaugh hearings. That something is essentially wrong — “broken” — with our politics has been a refrain in public discourse at least since the 2016 presidential election. And it’s something that almost everyone can agree on, regardless of what one thinks of November 2016 or Christine Blasey Ford.

In response, the temptation grows to retreat from politics. Writing in the New York Times last summer, Arthur Brooks, the outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute, even recommended a “politics cleanse”:

For two weeks — maybe over your August vacation — resolve not to read, watch or listen to anything about politics. Don’t discuss politics with anyone. When you find yourself thinking about politics, distract yourself with something else. 

Temporarily removing oneself from all things political is admittedly appealing, if only for psychological and emotional reasons. But what if that’s precisely the wrong reaction? What if the problem with our politics isn’t too much politics but too little?

That’s the counterintuitive claim advanced by James Wallner. “Instead of doing a politics cleanse,” he urges, “Americans should go on a bender.” Politics isn’t the problem, it’s the way we are going about politics that’s the problem.

For Wallner, the right way to view politics is, following Socrates and Madison, as the realm in which “persuasion [is] used to convert opinion into truth” among citizens. Implicit in this account “is the understanding that opinion can be transformed into truth on the basis of equality … Absent politics, there is no other way to do so.” No other way, that is, besides force. 

Instead of this Socratic ideal, we increasingly treat politics as a form of entertainment, a spectator sport. Politics has of course always involved a certain amount of theater. But when spectatorship takes the place of participation, self-government becomes impossible. Why? Because we become unwilling or unable even to attempt to persuade our fellow citizens.

That is not to say that politics can or should be without conflict. On the contrary, as Wallner points out, it is fear of such conflict that motivates the flight from politics:

As long as people with different beliefs participate in politics on the basis of civic equality, political activity will always generate disagreement and conflict. Abandoning politics permanently in the face of that conflict, however distasteful it may be, precludes us from using persuasion, negotiation, and compromise to resolve our disagreements. 

Politics can be cantankerous, even nasty — precisely because we have clashing worldviews and opinions. But politics is also the only way that such conflicts can be managed and adjudicated (not to say resolved) peaceably, rather than through force. 

In representative political regimes such as ours, the power to govern is delegated to elected officials. And this, in turn, opens up space for civil society in between national politics and the individual. But that in-between space is not apolitical; it is rather political in a different, more classical sense: the place where most of us, most of the time, encounter our fellow citizens face to face. 

If Wallner is right, politics doesn’t end outside the Beltway; it begins in the home and spills out into the workplace, the public square. And it requires treating even those with whom we fundamentally disagree as political equals. That may seem like a tall order these days. But, as Mr. Dooley almost said, self-government ain’t beanbag.

These are some of the many issues lately taken up in our pages. Below you will find just a few more highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, Managing Editor | RealClear Media Group

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Anti-Liberal Zealotry Part V: Rediscovering Liberalism. Peter Berkowitz concludes his series by advocating for renewal of the liberal tradition in the face of critics and challenges. (Read Part IV here.)

Five Facts: History’s Biggest Trade Fights. The bipartisan organization No Labels puts Trump’s trade wars in historical context. 

Obamacare Lawsuit Threatens Arizonans’ Health Care. Candidate for state attorney general January Contreras details the impact the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act could have.

American Farmers Don’t Need Subsidies. Garland S. Tucker III argues that New Zealand provides a model for how agriculture can thrive without dependency upon government programs.

Retaliatory Tariffs Could Set Back America’s Energy Future. In RealClearEnergy, Pinar Cebi Wilber explains how anti-trade policies threaten U.S. oil and gas dominance. 

A Better Way for the Feds to Support Puerto Rican Recovery. Also in RCE, Thomas King points out how hurricane-rattled Puerto Rico now has a chance to lead in “clean energy.” 

RealClear Book of the Week: “Melting Pot or Civil War.” In RealClearBooks, I highlight Reihan Salam’s proposal for immigration reform. 

D.C. Is Only the Latest “Model” School System to Disappoint. In RealClearEducation, Frederick M. Hess and Connor Kurtz explain why so many public school success stories turn out to be untrue. 

Make-Up Courses Can Lead to Made-Up Graduation Rates. Also in RCEd, Nat Malkus and Amy Cummings question the role of abbreviated remedial classes in public high schools.

E-Cig Regulation Likely to Burn Low-Income Americans. In RealClearHealth, Vanessa Brown Calder takes issue with a recent FDA decision.

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