In theory, modern politics should be simple. In any political order there are a set of cultural ideals which serve as goals, and politics is the art of choosing the means to reach those goals. The goal may be something like minimizing violent crime, and the available means can be more money for law enforcement, or more money for social education. Maybe the proposed solutions are mutually exclusive, maybe not. Maybe both are good ideas, maybe both are bad. But since there is only so much money to go around one has to take priority over the other. Politics is deciding which means will take priority in reaching the goal. Simple, right?
But then the people advancing the different proposed means also have their own interests: they want the perks and power that comes from holding office. They may see the issue (crime reduction) as a vehicle for achieving power for themselves and their friends. So the theoretical question of the best solution to violent crime becomes a proxy for a sort of primitive tribalism. “We, the merciful children of light, who favor educating the criminal class, are opposed to the violent, repressive fascists who just want to lock them up.” (or) “We the stern and realistic upholders of public good, who only seek justice for the victims of violent crime, are opposed to the limp-wristed hippies who would undermine the very social order.”
Relatives become absolutes; theories become religions. Each side becomes convinced that it has an innate right to rule by virtue of it’s moral and intellectual superiority. And note: in this system one does not become morally and intellectually superior by doing good deeds and making contributions to human knowledge, one becomes morally and intellectually superior by striking the orthodox political pose.
Striking the right pose is an easy way to define yourself as a person. It helps you feel good about yourself in spite of any real merits or faults you may have. You can play a vital role in the eternal battle between good and evil by simply voting one way over another.
Liberals love it when Republican senators and governors get caught cheating on their wives or soliciting homosexual acts in public restrooms: so much for the pose of upholding traditional morality. Conservatives get a kick out of liberals who sink to the most shocking language of misogyny and racism when commenting on people like Sarah Palin or Clarence Thomas: so much for your devotion to feminism and civil rights.
This later has been happening with such frequency it has given rise to what the right-wing of the internet calls “Fen’s Law”: People on the left believe in precisely none of the things they lecture the rest of America about. Fen’s law is probably true, contemporary liberalism is only a pose of goodness, with no real moral content. What liberals really believe in is their own innate superiority and right to rule.
But Fen’s Law applies equally to conservatives: they speak the language of populism and limited government, but when conservatives come to power they instantly transform into Republicans, and all pretense of limited government disappears. After all, if they really limited government, they would be undermining their own power.
I doubt there is any solution to poser politics. My suspicion is that the while the left pretends that it is always 1963, and the right pretends it is always 1982, the problems of 2013 have simply moved beyond the categories of political orthodoxies, and none of the politicians have any clue what they are talking about.