Political Polarization and Us

The Pew Research Center has issued a study on America’s increasing political polarization. There’s been the usual disagreement about what the study really means, but it’s clear that Democrats and Republicans have moved further apart in recent years. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that 82% of “consistent liberals” say they believe in compromise, compared to 32% of “consistent [so-called] conservatives”.

Norman Ornstein discusses the Pew findings at The Atlantic. He’s absolutely right that Republican politicians and their media colleagues are most to blame for the increasing polarization of recent years, and that Democratic voters moving further to the left has mainly been a reaction to the increasingly insane behavior of the right.

He also responds to the notion that both sides are equally to blame:

Does it matter whether the polarization, and the deep dysfunction that follows from it, is equal or not, including to the average voter? The answer is a resounding yes. If bad behavior—using the nation’s full faith and credit as a hostage to political demands, shutting down the government, attempting to undermine policies that have been lawfully enacted, blocking nominees not on the basis of their qualifications but to nullify the policies they would pursue, using filibusters as weapons of mass obstruction—is to be discouraged or abandoned, those who engage in it have to be held accountable.

Saying both sides are equally responsible, insisting on equivalence as the mantra of mainstream journalism, leaves the average voter at sea, unable to identify and vote against those perpetrating the problem. The public is left with a deeper disdain for all politics and all politicians, and voters become more receptive to demagogues and those whose main qualification for office is that they have never served, won’t compromise, and see everything in stark black-and-white terms.

One solution to this problem might be to elect Democratic demagogues who won’t compromise, if we could find enough of them to make a difference. But a government composed of politicians on the left and right who won’t compromise would be even more dysfunctional than the government we already have.

That seems to leave electing more reasonable people as the best solution, so many reasonable people that the nuts can’t gum up the works. Until we have a Democratic President, a Democratic majority in the House and a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, we’re probably screwed. And even then we’ll have to worry about the damn Supreme Court.

(PS — So it was a hiatus after all.)

2 thoughts on “Political Polarization and Us

  1. Glad to see you back. Yes, the false equivalency we often hear in the media is maddening.

    The Republican party in the last couple of decades has become increasingly reactionary and self-righteous. The problem is that this isn’t just the politicians, but the rank and file voters. We can’t pretend that getting past this will be a matter of just changing a few official’s minds. Rural and southern voters need to come out of this funk. (I say this as a southerner myself.) Demographically they will, eventually. But a lot of people will likely suffer in the meantime.

    • I don’t disagree. I think Ornstein’s view is that the politicians and right-wing media were the decisive force in moving lots of Republican voters even further to the right. That sounds correct to me, but it would be difficult to confirm that theory, even with a lot of polling data, and at this point it probably doesn’t make much difference anyway.

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