Superconsensus, not Superman

«The best our current two parties can produce today – in the wake of the worst existential crisis in our economy and environment in a century – is suboptimal… Suboptimal is OK for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. We need to stop waiting for Superman and start building a superconsensus to do the superhard stuff we must do now.» No, this is not another conversation about Greece’s problems. Rather, it is an extract from a Thomas L. Friedman editorial in The New York Times, describing the stagnation dogging American democracy today. The author ponders whether America needs a new political force. He writes, «We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left.» Sure, Greece is not America and drawing parallels can be a risky business. But it is clear that Western democracies are facing similar crises today. The role of money in politics, the operation of lobbies representing strong interest groups, the role of unions and the fear of political cost are like a virus that is paralyzing the system and makes problem-solving an impossible mission. Meanwhile, the competition uses fast-track decision making (China) or a growth-first policy (India). Friedman’s piece contained an interesting observation by political scientist Larry Diamond who could also be referring to Greece: «We basically have two bankrupt parties bankrupting the country,» he said, adding that the two-party system does not have the courage, integrity and creativity to tackle problems. «They cannot think about the overall public good and the longer term anymore because both parties are trapped in short-term, zero-sum calculations.» Greece is not alone in such deadlocks. Other democracies and more dynamic economies are looking for solutions to the same difficult problems. Borrowing from Friedman, I can only repeat that what we need is not a Superman but a superconsensus to deal with the fundamental problems blocking progress in this country.