Ezra on Polarization

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.

Great analysis.

Hockey fighting

You know what I love about hockey?  The amazing speed, power, and skill on display as the players move up and down the ice.  And what I could really do without?  Interruptions so players can awkwardly slug at each other for a few minutes.  Judging by crowd reactions at NHL games, though, sadly, I’m in a real minority here.  When I took David to his first ever hockey game, he was actually amazed at both the fact that it was routine to simply stop the game for this nonsense, but even more so at the fan reaction.  For someone who has grown up watching only basketball and football, it really does seem crazy that this is basically condoned and celebrated.  Anyway, the good news is that at least at the junior league level, they are looking to clean up the game:

Viewing fighting as a safety issue in light of increasing concussion research, and unwilling to wait for the National Hockey League to propose changes, USA Hockey andHockey Canada are seriously considering rules that would effectively end fighting in nonprofessional leagues as soon as next season.

The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”

Hockey has long been a rare team sport that widely condones the interruption of a game so two or more players can trade punches. But for boys starting at age 16 or so, from the rough-and-tumble junior leagues to the N.H.L., fighting has usually been minimally penalized (often with five minutes in the penalty box) and thus widely practiced, condoned, even celebrated.

That may change soon. The increased recognition of the long-term dangers of brain trauma, across all sports, has forced hockey’s leaders to consider ways to reduce blows to the head.

Hooray for them.  The article includes speculation about hockey’s ability to “survive” this.  I say, if hockey cannot survive without fighting, it’ s not worth surviving.  Though, in my opinion it is a much better sport without the fighting.

Photo of the day

Interesting set of present day Chernobyl.  As you know, I’m a sucker for post nuclear disaster photos.  Here’s how the control room looks today:

On April 26, 1986, operators in this control room of reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant committed a fatal series of errors during a safety test, triggering a reactor meltdown that resulted in the world’s largest nuclear accident to date. Today, the control room sits abandoned and deadly radioactive. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, 2005 (Gerd Ludwig/INSTITUTE)

Romney is really consevative

So, I just finished grading a bunch of a papers where my students had to analyze a Republican primary candidate.  Alas, way too many Romney’s and not a single Herman Cain!  Anyway, one interesting thing was how many students wrote about how “moderate” Mitt is.  Of course, if one wants to evaluate him by his record as Massachusetts governor, but this is now the 2nd presidential election in a row where has has run as a distinctly conservative candidate (in large part, disavowing his record in MA).  Many people just seem to assume that the proper ideological placement is current Mitt x former Mitt.  In one sense, that may be fair, but it does seem to me that in running as Republican president, we should take Mitt’s ideology to simply be current Mitt.  And when you do that, he really is not the least bit moderate.  Here’s Jon Cohn comparing him and Santorum:

And yet … are the two candidates really so different? On the issues, particularly domestic policy, they no longer seem to be. Both have called for radical downsizing of government, with Santorum seeking to cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product and Romney seeking to cap it at 20 percent. Either cap, if enacted, would decimate key federal programs and all but certainly require undermining cherished social welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Both want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, effectively taking health insurance away from 30 million people. Both have called for reducing taxes in ways that will disproportionately favor the wealthy. Both promise the deficit will come down  – and both have sketched out fiscal plans that would, according to a recent report from the Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, make the deficit go up.

Many seem to be convince that if he won the presidency, we’d see the “real” (if there is such a thing) Mitt take over and be more moderate.  But this “real” Mitt would still be beholden to a Republican base and Republican elected officials for his political power.   I even heard some speculation that he would nominate SC Justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade.  Seriously?!  Not unless he wants his presidency to effectively end at that time (or convert to working with Democrats instead of Republicans).  I just don’t see much reason to believe President Romney would really try and govern all that different than candidate Romney says he would.

Dumbest poll question ever?

From Gallup:

As you may know, the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month concerning a requirement in the healthcare law that every American must buy health insurance or pay a fine. Regardless of whether you favor or oppose the law, do you think this requirement is constitutional or unconstitutional? Among all Americans, by party ID, and by view of healthcare law, February 2012

Seriously?  The average American probably can’t even name 4 amendments of the Bill of Rights, but 92% have an opinion on the Constitutionality of the law that most of them hardly understand?  Anyway, it is interesting that Republicans have been so effective in this when the mandate is, in fact, “Obviously Constitutional.”   Republicans may hate that Democrats passed major health care reform, and sure there are some conservative judges out there willing to blend the Constitution plenty for politics, but this isn’t even really a close case.

Among the most telling facts, you won’t find a single liberal who argues that it is unconstitutional, but there is many a fair-minded conservative who admits, whether they like the law or not, that its constitutionality really isn’t even in question.

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