Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page. He’s a major tool for the Right, in other words. He says people in Spain don’t want to talk about politics.
Here, roughly, is the whole of a response from a right-of-center gentleman to a query about the current state of Spain’s politics, around a dinner table in a noisy, modern Madrid restaurant: “Well, yes, the Zapatero government.” Pause. “It’s painful, quite painful.” Pause. “It’s really not something one wants to talk about.” The rest of one’s heretofore voluble dinner companions mutter assent. Let’s discuss something else.
How like New York, where at this stage of our politics, Democrats and Republicans coexist to the extent they agree not to discuss George Bush, Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz or much of anything deeper than the celebrities of presidential politics.
Clearly, Mr. Henninger is being invited to the wrong parties. I’ve spent plenty of time with New Yorkers lately, and they’ll talk about Bush, Iraq, and Paul Wolfowitz loudly and lustily at the drop of a hat. You don’t even have to drop the hat, in fact.
But of course, I mostly hang out with other liberals. If there were a few genuine conservatives around — Mr. Henninger is proof there’s at least one in New York — I might hold my tongue. It’s like seeing that someone’s fly is unzipped; you don’t know whether to say something or, out of politeness, pretend not to notice.
That Henninger himself is a tad unzipped comes out in a subsequent paragraph. According to him, American political culture was wonderfully healthy and genteel until the 2000 elections.
It has been argued in this column before that the origins of our European-like polarization can be found in the Florida legal contest at the end of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential campaign. That was a mini civil war. With the popular vote split 50-50, we spent weeks in a tragicomic pitched battle over contested votes in a few Florida counties. The American political system, by historical tradition flexible and accommodative, was unable to turn off the lawyers and forced nine unelected judges to settle it. So they did, splitting 5-4. In retrospect, a more judicious Supreme Court minority would have seen the danger in that vote (as Nixon did in 1960) and made the inevitable result unanimous to avoid recrimination. A pacto. Instead, we got recrimination.
I know you’re hyperventilating right now. Take deep breaths.
From that day, American politics has been a pitched battle, waged mainly by Democrats against the “illegitimate” Republican presidency. Some Democrats might say the origins of this polarization traces to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. After that the goal was payback. To lose as the Democrats did in 2000 was, and remains, unendurable (as likely it would have for Republicans if they’d lost 5 to 4).
And Mr. Henninger wonders why people don’t want to talk about politics with him? Mr. Henninger, the problem is not “American politics.” It’s you.