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In the Sunday 5/18/14 Star Ledger, John Farmer made some cogent points. We see a microcosm of negativity and divisiveness in some of the topics being actively pursued on KP. What do you think of Mr. Farmer's opinion?

Friends in other Countries and on other Continents, your comments would be welcome.

In the search for why Americans are so sour on politics, the popular answer is the adolescent refusal of Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything.

That’s part of it, sure. But the real answer — to the degree any one answer suffices — is that neither party’s image, what it stands for above all else, is even close to positive.
It’s what they’re against, not what they favor, that identifies Democrats and Republicans these days. It’s a recipe for irrelevance in the short run, outright rejection in the longer term.

Politics is generally thought of as a zero-sum game. If your side wins the other side loses, and vice versa. But as played by Republicans and Democrats these days, it’s a far more existential threat.

It’s a mindless kind of murder-suicide pact.

Although Democrats enjoy a somewhat better standing than Republicans, according to a new Gallup poll, neither has an approval rating anywhere near a majority of voters. Congress, where they share control, hovers around 10 percent in voter approval. And, maybe most significant, independents now outnumber enrollees in each party.

A standard topic at cocktail parties, church conclaves and the office water cooler is how bad politics is today and wouldn’t it be a Godsend if we could vote Congress, all of it, out of office and start over?

Congress is a national joke, a daily punching bag for Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and others who make us laugh. Is Congress so cocooned in the Capitol its members can’t see that? Probably. It’s a form of myopia peculiar to Washington.

It should be no surprise that voters, especially younger ones, find little appealing about either party. Why should they? Most of what they hear from Democrats and Republicans alike are strident denunciations of their opponents that often border on lies. It’s standard campaign fare in both parties.

It wasn’t always that way. Sure, there was negativism aplenty in the past, but almost always accompanied by rhetoric about what the parties would do once in office. What programs they favored — dry stuff, sure, but the substance of government.

In those days, Republicans, like Democrats, campaigned as a party favoring government, not opposed to it; for better, not necessarily smaller, government, with emphasis on military strength but with a sensitivity to social needs not found in today’s GOP. (They even accepted the FDR and LBJ social initiatives).

Democrats were identified mostly by their domestic agenda of help for the middle-class working man and, to a lesser extent, for the poor, but also by a strong commitment to the military. (Democratic administrations, you’ll recall, fought World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam).

What are they best known for today? The GOP is the party that opposes immigration reform, a minimum wage increase, most social spending, gay marriage and any tax increase, even on an obscenely profitable oil industry no matter how deep the budget deficit they say they want reduced.

Democrats? They’re ready to man the barricades against the Keystone XL pipeline, almost any tax or domestic spending cuts, military spending increases, school vouchers or any criticism of organized labor.

Moreover, it’s their opposition agendas both parties mostly campaign on — what they’re against, not what they’re for. As a result we can’t be sure what we’ll get when either gains power.

How’d that happen? Blame it on what each party calls its “base.” Motivating the base, especially in primary elections, is goal No. 1 in every campaign.

But the base in both parties is getting more extreme and shrinking in relation to the larger, increasingly unaffiliated electorate.

As a rule, the more extreme the base, the more likely it is to respond more to what it loathes rather than what it likes.

Thus, the right-wing Fox News audience wants red meat rhetoric attacking President Obama — the redder the better.

And MSNBC spends its time feeding its liberal listeners a steady left-wing diet demonizing the GOP.

It’s also the kind of easy, sleazy stuff that campaign consultants, the hit men of American politics, armed with too much money, turn into campaign ads designed to agitate rather than inform.

Reince Priebus, the GOP national chairman, is right when he says the party must wrest control of the presidential nomination process from the television networks. TV, which craves controversy and shuns any real policy discussion, turned the 2012 nomination debates into a demolition derby from which the GOP campaign never recovered.

He doesn’t want it to happen in 2016. It’s advice Democrats would do well to heed, too.

John Farmer is a Star-Ledger columnist. His column appears Sundays. Keep the conversation going at

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I personally think the American public does not have the guts to vote everyone out of office and start over. All the american public wants to do is whine;cry;and freebies. If they had a working government they would not have anything to complain about. And.....the american people as a whole do not have backbone. Everyone is good at complaining and stating what should be done;however no one does it.
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