But we also know that a robust two-party system is vital to the integrity and effectiveness of the democracy. We know that the push-pull of different political orientations; the vigorous debate that must transpire to get at a truth; and the balance created by having a variety of viewpoints represented over time - those things comprise the genius of the great American experiment.
That is why the failure of the current Republican Party to offer intelligent and helpful debate is felt by some of us as a loss.
Gun violence is complicated. Poverty is complicated. Drone use is complicated. Questions about the ideal purview of government are complicated. Questions about the proper role of the Intelligence community in Defense endeavors are complicated. The modern economy is complicated.
So when particularly sobering problems emerge, forcing our giddiness to evaporate, even those of us on the left who are generally highly partisan and self-righteous about our ideas recognize the need for all hands on deck. It then becomes infuriating to see the disarray, shallowness, and nastiness that presently rule the GOP.
Questions like, how exactly is it determined that an American citizen has become an enemy combatant? Would such a person have an opportunity to surrender before being assassinated? Can such a person be killed on American soil? As Isikoff pointed out Monday evening on The Rachel Maddow Show, the administration has been effectively unable to say that current guidelines don’t allow for an American citizen, living in a US city, to be killed in bed at night by government operatives. But because what passes on the right these days for reason is actually a paranoid, lunatic fringe-type thinking, we can’t have a real discussion about it.
I have tremendous faith in this administration. I trust Barack Obama. But participatory government is our duty in this country, so we should ask these questions, and they should answer. No administration can get everything right. I believe the President when I hear him express his intent to improve the transparency and codification of these processes. I believe him when he describes the challenge of managing on-going and imminent threats while simultaneously trying to draft publicly vetted rules of engagement for a frontier mode of defense. (A mode of defense that, in my mind, has great promise as a tool to help us delay or avoid full-scale war.)
Vigorous debate on this subject has occurred on the left. Some of us are puritanical pacifists, deeply opposed to drone use on principle. Some of us have taken on, to our own surprise, a pragmatic hawkishness, feeling that drones may be evil compared to no drones, but they are downright benevolent compared to full-scale air raids and ground invasions.
I’m talking about a scrutiny wherein vast swaths of a party's most vocal members hijack an entire 24-hour news cycle to explore whether the barrel of a skeet rifle held by the president looks authentic or photo-shopped. I’m talking about a party that reelects members to Congress who use perfectly good congressional floor time to question whether this president was born in the US, or whether he is a secret Socialist, or whether there are people in his State Department with nefarious ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
These doings, along with many others, all demand that countless hours of pointless, inane, mental energy be spent on faux issues or backwards policies while pressing problems are at hand.
Shouldn't thoughtful criticism be the responsibility of everyone?
Yes, citizen members of the party in power should be expected to push themselves to critique and challenge their chosen administrations, publicly and forcefully. But we should also be able to rely on the opposition party to be constructively skeptical and civilly unsympathetic.
Republicans. Pull your selves together. We need your help on this drone thing.