Global Agenda: Fanatics rule, OK

So great has the political polarization of America become that trying to be objective is nearly unacceptable.

Was US President George W. Bush responsible for 9/11? Surely not. Since he had been in office less than eight months when the attacks occurred, it seems unreasonable to expect him to have identified the threat from al-Qaida and to have taken effective measures to neutralize or at least mitigate it. If anything, it is the Clinton administration that is more to blame, because it could and with the benefit of hindsight, should have dealt with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. Was Bush responsible for Hurricane Katrina? Clearly not, since it was an act of God. Is he then responsible for the failure to prepare sufficiently for a thoroughly predictable (and predicted) disaster of this magnitude? Clearly yes, but he shares that responsibility with other levels of government (state, local) and previous administrations stretching back years and decades. Is he responsible for the tardy and ineffective response to the catastrophe? Probably, although on this issue, not only are there other entities and agencies among whom to share the blame, there is also a need to establish the facts regarding what could reasonably have been done, when and by whom. All these questions are obvious and have been widely asked. The answers also seem obvious to the objective observer but apparently there aren't many of these around. In practice, the answers given vary according to the political stance of the person giving them. So great has the political polarization of America become, that trying to be objective about these or most other issues is now way beyond unfashionable and approaching unacceptable. If you support Bush and the Republicans, you are duty-bound to reject any and all suggestions that he and they have screwed up, whether in the Deep South, the Middle East or in outer space. Conversely, if you are anti-Bush and/or you are Democrat (not necessarily the same thing), then it is axiomatic that Bush and "the Right" are responsible for anything and everything that goes wrong and it is your duty to denounce them as furiously as possible. In this environment of intensifying partisan extremism, propounding a view that is anything other than black-or-white, all-or-nothing, is virtually impossible. "Yes, but" won't pass muster, as the true believers scream their dogmatic slogans at each other in what now passes for political debate. Take Iraq, for instance. Why is it not possible to combine the following two elements into one composite opinion? a) the invasion of Iraq was justified and necessary, certainly on the basis of the information available at the time and probably in any event; b) American policy in Iraq since the fall of the Saddam regime has been clumsy and counterproductive. Or take the hurricane. It should be perfectly legitimate to put forward the view that: a) a disaster in New Orleans was inevitable, but b) the rapid descent into anarchy that followed tells us that something is seriously amiss in American society. Neither of these statements relates to this or any other administration, party or sociopolitical philosophy at least overtly. Yet, so laden is the current political climate that the second statement is regarded as partisan and is therefore propounded or rejected accordingly. Whether or not it is true, or at least worth thinking about, is not relevant to the response to it. There is apparently no limit to the application of this approach. Anyone suggesting that the Bush administration's tax and budget policies are problematic on both economic and ethical grounds is dismissed as being "a liberal," the ultimate epithet in the true conservative's curse list. Conversely, anyone suggesting that stable nuclear families are conducive to positive socioeconomic behavior is regarded in liberal circles as not just conservative, but a veritable caveman. Facts and figures as raw material from which to help build an opinion are unnecessary; nuances, especially, are unhelpful. The dangers inherent in this political environment are clear. In the case of the US, they are enhanced by a political system based on "winner takes all." Since in a democracy, power tends to shift periodically from one side to another, extremist governments will seek to maximize their impact during their tenure in office only for the opposition to swing to the other extreme when their turn comes. This can only result in volatile and unstable policies in all spheres, which is also the result that ensures that no one right, left or center is happy for very long and, ultimately, at all.