President Compares “Our Dysfunctional Politics” To Division in the Middle East

August 9th, 2014

In an fascinating and detailed interview with Thomas Friedman on foreign affairs in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, and elsewhere–beyond the scope of what I usually write about–the President offered this warning about the state of our own gridlocked political system.

“Our politics are dysfunctional,” said the president, and we should heed the terrible divisions in the Middle East as a “warning to us: societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”

While he blamed the rise of the Republican far right for extinguishing so many potential compromises, Obama also acknowledged that gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics — the guts of our political system today — are sapping our ability to face big challenges together, more than any foreign enemy. “Increasingly politicians are rewarded for taking the most extreme maximalist positions,” he said, “and sooner or later, that catches up with you.”

Consider these remarks for a moment. Obama sees the greatest threat to “fac[ing] big challenges together,” not our “foreign enem[ies],” but partisanship. This is code for Republicans. He mentions the  “rise of the Republican far right,” gerrymandering (by a Republican Congress), the Balkanization of the news media (that means Fox News and talk radio), and uncontrolled money in politics (that means big money flowing to the GOP from corporate coffers). This is stunning. He lays at the feet of the Republican party all of the problems, and worries that this “political faction” could bring us towards the “terrible divisions” in the Middle East by insisting on “maximalist positions.”