Adversarial versus Agonistic in American Politics

I would like to be able to claim that I was dissapointed with Obama's acceptance speech from Denver last night, but I wasn't. It was so mind-numbingly predictable that it met every one of my cynical expectations for a convention acceptance address. Even the dim glimmers of anything that differentiated Obama from previous candidates had faded away. We heard about checking Russian aggression, halting Iranian nuclear development as a "must" and many times heard calls upon God to bless our nation and see us through to ultimate victory as a nation and a people.

I don't really see how any ravenous Obama supporter could continue to have such passionate revolutionary feelings about someone who hit a single when he was well-poised to not only hit a home run, but change the rules as to how hits are evaluated in the game of American politics.

What makes the failure even more dissapointing was that it was the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s historic speech on the Washington mall during the Civil Rights March on Washington. Why was this not mentioned by Obama? It should have been a master metaphor for the entire rhetorical situation.

Chatting on Skype with my freinds also brought into perspective for me one of the reasons that Obama cannot accept the nomination of a major party and be able to affect change. American politics are completely adversarial since they are "winner take all." This system encourages the creation and rhetorical bolstering of opposition and difference between political rivals rather than a constructive engagement.

Mentioning that the opposition candidate has some good ideas, even a couple, is political suicide. The strategy, from a major party perspective, must be to create real and stark natural differences between the candidate and the opponent. This encourages a rhetoric of division and difference.

Oppose that to a political system that favored the agonistic. The word's root is the Greek word agon, which means a struggle, or a contest. In the agon, the struggle is always held above the resolution of the struggle as the thing which is best. To say it another way, the struggle is always held as sacred. In an agonistic model, it's strategic to conceede and to collaborate in order to push the conversation or the debate forward. In an agonistic political model, antagonism is rejected. That would be creating argument for the sake of argument. Agonism favors argument that furthers our ability to struggle, contest and debate with eachother so that we can gain insights from the continuing conversation.

In the American system, this is discouraged as we saw last night. McCain's politics stem from his core of "not getting it." There is no hope for him. At least, if he were wrong or if he misunderstood the issues, we could convince him through our good arguments to change his mind. But unfortunately, his core as a person prevents this. He loves America, but the wrong America. He lives elsewhere; his life is so alien to us that he cannot possibly offer something good to us.

I am interested to see what McCain does, but I fully expect it will be the same sort of speech we saw last night, just in a mirror.

The real question isn't who will win the election, the real question is how many more elections like this can Americas weather before they get sick of the low quality of our political discourse?