Bias or Good Sense?

Now that I’ve finished going through all but the philosophy books, I can get back to exercising my fingers and your patience here at WOCS.

So Vox has an article about the increasing animosity between Democrats and Republicans. According to opinion polls, most Americans used to be relatively tolerant toward other political beliefs. For example, back in 1960, only 4 or 5% of us said we’d care if our child married a member of that other (obviously misguided) party.

Then, beginning around 1980 (wasn’t there a Presidential election that year?), politics started getting more personal (why, as a matter of fact, there was!). In fact, by 2010, 33% of Republicans and 27% of Democrats admitted that such a marriage would make them uncomfortable. I bet the percentages have gone up since then.

Data like this suggests that our politics is becoming a bigger part of our personal identity. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat defines what kind of person you are. It particular, it defines you as the bad kind or the good kind.  

The Vox article implies that the degree of animosity one feels toward supporters of that other party reflects one’s bias. The more upset you would be if your child married a Democrat or a damn Republican, the more biased you are. 

Vox even allows you to take a little test to measure your bias. It’s one of those “implied bias” exercises that measures how quickly you associate something (in this case, a political party) with words like “good” and “bad”. Quick responses are said to indicate strong associations and fundamental beliefs; slow responses indicate the opposite. (I’ll wait here if you want to take the test. It’s right after the article’s third paragraph.)

I took the test myself and even accept the results. In fact, I was pleased by the results. I wear my “bias” as a badge of honor!

Here’s my score:

test 1

That’s me way over on the very far left. I’m basically off the chart in my animosity toward Republicans. But whether this demonstrates bias or good sense is a matter of opinion. (I lean toward “good sense”.)

Anyway, it seems as if we Americans are dividing into increasingly distinct political tribes, which will lead to more paralysis, discord and even discrimination. Unless, of course, a threat from a common enemy brings us together. That’s what happened in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, as discussed in an interesting book called Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America’s Fight Over World War II. 

The level of animosity between the “isolationists” (who desperately wanted us to avoid another war in Europe) and the “interventionists” (who wanted us to do whatever we could to stop Hitler) is amazing. Organizations were formed; mass meetings were held; national radio broadcasts were delivered. Insults were hurled. Friendships were destroyed. And suddenly, we all had somebody else to be angry with. When President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war, even the isolationist Republicans in Congress gave him a standing ovation.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure we could even agree on what constitutes a paramount common enemy. Violent Muslim fundamentalists? Not dangerous enough. Global warming? Not quick enough. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Earth will be attacked by space ants or the rulers of Omicron Persei 8. But even that might not work

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.)