People I know and respect have had quite divergent reactions to Eric Alterman’s new Nation feature “Kabuki Democracy” but while I certainly don’t agree with every single word in the piece, I think it’s overall quite excellent. The divergent reactions, meanwhile, strike me as largely driven by different readings of the piece. But my read is that what Alterman is saying is that the root cause of progressive discontent with the current state of affairs is that the 2006 and 2008 elections haven’t changed the structural imbalance between left and right in American politics.
The way I would characterize this, which is a bit different from how Alterman does, is like this: Fox is much more conservative than MSNBC is liberal, and it has a much larger audience. Conservative talk radio continues to dwarf anything that exists on the left. Business has a “privileged position” in America’s version of interest-group pluralism, and labor unions are weaker than ever. A large proportion of poor people are non-citizens who can’t vote, and those who can vote have not only less money but much less social and cultural capital and thus the political system is almost entirely unresponsive to their needs.
These aren’t “excuses” for bad behavior by elected officials, but they’re reasons that progressives don’t get what we want out of the political system. Changing these factors is going to take a long, hard slog.