February 28, 2012 1 Comment
Great post by Ezra on polarization of American politics inspired by the retirement of Maine’s Olympia Snowe. It’s really Ezra at his best– writing with the knowledge of a PhD in Political Science (not that he has one, but he might as well given his knowledge of PS research on American politics) combined with the clarity of a skilled journalist. Some highlights:
We use “polarization” as an epithet. It’s what’s wrong with America’s politics. It’s what’s wrong with America’s political parties. It’s what’s wrong with America’s politicians. It’s what’s wrong, finally, with America.
And polarization is certainly bad for moderate legislators who want to wield influence by brokering deals between the two parties. But for the political system as a whole, “polarization” is a neutral term. It simply means the two parties disagree, and clearly. It doesn’t mean they disagree angrily or unproductively or in service of extreme ideologies.
To imagine this, consider two political systems. In one, the two parties aren’t polarized, because the Democratic Party is filled with conservative arch-segregationists. In another, the parties are very polarized, but it’s because everyone agrees segregation was a moral blight, and with that out of the way, the conservative Democrats who kept their seats by appealing to racism were replaced by Republicans. Which system is more extreme? Or unproductive? Or hateful?
Polarization doesn’t describe people’s opinions. It just describes how those same people, with those same opinions, sort themselves…
But as the two parties have polarized, we’ve learned that a system built for consensus is not able to properly function amid constant partisan competition…
Polarization is with us now and will be with us for the foreseeable future. The question is whether we will permit it to paralyze our political system and undermine our country or whether we will accept it and make the necessary accommodations.
Doing so would require taking on cherished, consensus-promoting features of the old system, like the filibuster. But in today’s girdlocked world, those features no longer promote consensus. They simply promote gridlock.