Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist, issued a forceful indictment of the American Bipolarchy this week without calling it by name. He argues that the United States has become a one-party democracy because of the Republican party's effective abstention from serious participation in national policy. This is a bad thing, Friedman contends, because it empowers irresponsible elements in the majority party to demand concessions when party leaders can't get support across the aisle. As a result, useful bills are laden with pork as ransom to the cynical hacks who've mastered the system to the benefit of themselves and their constituents.
Friedman is sure to outrage many readers by arguing that a "one-party autocracy" like China might be more effective than a one-party democracy as long as the autocrats are "reasonably enlightened." They don't have to deal with self-interested partisan obstructionism when enacting long-term policies on clean energy and other future technologies. Few Americans would be willing to pay the price in civil liberties for the blessings of enlightened autocracy, but Friedman has nothing to offer them by way of solutions to the "one-party democracy" problem except exhortations for Republicans to get serious about the country's future. He doesn't seem optimistic about their doing so. What then?
The prize-winning columnist never seems to consider the significance of the fact that the obstructionist Republican party effectively monopolizes the opposition to the Obama administration. The inherently corrupt one-party democracy he decries may well be an inevitable consequence of an entrenched two-party system. If so, the solution would not be for Democrats to transition from one-party democrats to one-party autocrats, as Friedman doesn't dare suggest, but for Republicans to give way to opposition politicians who practice constructive dissent rather than dead-end obstructionism. Friedman does seem to anticipate this possibility, noting that businessmen are abandoning the GOP as it ceases to offer useful solutions to the promise of globalization. But if he gave more thought to how the Republicans got into such a position in the first place, he might not have had to bring autocracy as an option into the discussion. The solution to monopolized dissent isn't less dissent, but more, but the Republican party remains an obstacle to necessary change, and the structural tenacity of the Bipolarchy makes dislodging the Republicans a daunting prospect. Whether the American system can overcome this cancer at its heart will determine whether the system is preferable to enlightened autocracy for anything more than the sake of arguments.