How is it that in the United States we have arguably the most expansive free speech rights in the industrial world and an incredibly degraded political culture? How did political freedom produce such a depoliticized culture?
The tendency is to believe that the government does what it likes, and we can agree or disagree. If we disagree, well, we can vote in a few years.
I have chewed on this one quite a bit, because it's an observation any foreign student from Europe in the U.S. stumbles over and "can't get", so to speak.
I tried to answer myself this question like this, but am not sure, if it has any legal basis to stand on, it's mere "gut's feeling" talk.
Because anybody has the absolute right to free speech, anybody with the means (money) has the absolute right to broadcast his free speech, no matter what he says. So, free speech with money to buy the broadcasting or distributing medium, is more free to be heard than other free speech.
If the free speech is actually expressing something the majority of the population doesn't want to hear (because it's talking about a subject which arouses hate and fear - typical example, anything about racism or child pornography for example), the only defense one has in an absolute free speech rights societey is to ignore the speech and not answer to the arguments.
Counter arguments would acknowledge the dissenter and, so the saying goes, he doesn't deserve your attention. This reaction then leads, on the long run, to a society, which continuously is in denial of its dissenting members.
With regards to the other part, "the government does what it wants, and you can agree or disagree, well and if you disagree, you can vote in a few years", I would say that this is more or less true in any proportional representative democracy. But why is it a bit more true in the U.S. than in other European democracies ?
Seems to me, it has to do with the fact that political opinions are NOT really represented in political parties and that the elected representatives of the parties are not firmly enough hold accountable to their own (mostly non existing) official party's political agenda.
Most people don't see a connection between campaign finance and the way the electoral college and the voting rights are structured in the U.S. with the fact that an accountable diverse political party system can't be built in the U.S. How else do you explain that there is NO third party in the U.S., which represents dissenter's views, and that there are NO real party platforms (aside from pretty meaningless "small government" vs. "big government, big spenders" rhetoric)?
How meaningless that really is, can be best watched right now, where people from both sides of the aisle have trouble to formulate reasonable "air security" legislation. People seem to think they have to be "partisan" again to show that we have a "functioning democracy" and come up with the pretty silly legislation.
There is another consequence of the absolute freedom of speech rights philosophy as being the guardian of freedom and democracy. Let me make a silly example. It is clear that if I can say anything I want, (meaning I can harrass any K5 poster to be the most awful, biased and malicious troll on earth :-)) , and you get profoundly sick and tired of me.
What options do you have to deal with me ? You can ignore me, shouting back at me or never let a story through or punish me with the profoundly insulting (tzz, tzzz) measurement of denying me "trusted user"status. In your minds you have "profiled me" as being an "untrusting person". Shame on you. Now you end up doing exactly what you don't stand for. You do everything but discussing the issue.
What would my response be ? I will shout back, that you are all "profiling me" as the awful German dumb kneejerk woman etc. And I will complain bitterly about having to live in a group, where extensive "ethnical and political profiling" is done. That is unfair and is against the standard of being treated "equal in front of the law" That of course is also completely unacceptable. But hey, you have no other means to get rid of me. That's the problem.
Another example to make my point. As you can't get a handle to screen each passenger entering an airplane via ID card with whatever almost bullet proof authentication feature integrated on it (violates privacy rights and because of other civil liberty rights issues), you have to start to do "profile screening" leading in the end to a much more "unfree" society, because you have to watch "how I pay my ticket, how I look, why I buy only a one-way ticket, etc. etc." Completely idiotic measurements to "secure" that I am not a potential terrorist.
With all your freedom of everything rights you end up being quite unfree. You have to be on "alert". That means you have done the first step to a society, where not big brother is watching you, but any of your neighbors is. And that's the most unfree society I can imagine to live in.
You are now allowed to return to silence me, profile me, ignore me and continue with the political discussion. :-)