Michael Lind blames the lack of real debate on cable TV:
'Whereas progressives and conservatives — and libertarians and democratic socialists, to say nothing of fascists and Islamists — analyze politics and public policy from the standpoint of a more or less consistent view of the world, Democratists and Republicanists are P.R. agents for one of the two parties. The job of a Democratist is to defend whatever the Democratic Party did today, whether or not it is compatible with progressive principles. The job of a Republicanist is to defend whatever the Republican Party did today, whether or not it is compatible with conservative principles. The partisan spinmeisters who use television to raise their profiles can be rewarded with jobs as presidential speechwriters or White House press secretaries, or with bestselling books and TV shows of their own.
'Twas not always thus. Let's travel back in time to the 1950s and 1960s, when there were only three networks. In both Congress and the executive branch, there was a seemingly monolithic bipartisan establishment. In Congress, this took the form of the dominant "conservative coalition" of moderate Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats (like today's Blue Dogs, only more prehistoric). The executive branch of both parties, along with the prestige press, was socially more upscale than Congress, staffed by people who prepped at the same Northeastern schools, went to the same Ivy League universities, wore the same horn-rimmed glasses, and thought the same complacently establishmentarian thoughts. If you doubt me, watch old black-and-white "Meet the Press" episodes, where the Horn-Rimmed People drone on to each other about current affairs in vaguely British, "Long Island lockjaw" accents.
William F. Buckley Jr.'s movement conservatives, the libertarian movement, and the New Left all rebelled in different ways against the sclerotic bipartisan establishment. In the 1950s and 1960s their dissent was pretty much confined to small-circulation magazines like National Review and Dissent. The real breakthrough was Buckley's "Firing Line" program on PBS, followed by the appearance on Sunday television of George Will. Buckley and Will both looked and sounded like Horn-Rimmed People, but their thinking broke with the postwar consensus. The old networks soon balanced them with overtly liberal commentators — Jane Alexander vs. James Kilpatrick. Gore Vidal debated Norman Mailer on "The Dick Cavett Show." Genuine intellectuals and authors occasionally got on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show. In recent years, Bill Moyers has kept this kind of intelligent programming alive in an increasingly hostile media environment.'