The yardlines

I’ve always really enjoyed the politics on a football field metaphor for partisan polarization.  I certainly did appreciate that Mann and Ornstein used it in their recent essay I raved about.  As Matt Steinglass points out, though, they actually blew it in their analogy (at least on the Democratic side):

Messrs Ornstein and Mann write: “While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.” It’s not entirely clear what time period the authors are talking about, but their observation doesn’t work for any time period I can think of. The Democrats, as far as I can see, have moved from their 40-yard-line to midfield, or their opponents’ 45. As recently as the Clinton presidency, Democrats actively pushed for gun control, defence budgets under 3% of GDP, banning oil exploration off America’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts, a public option or single-payer solution to universal health insurance, and…well, Clinton-era progressive income-tax rates. Today these positions have all been abandoned. And we’re talking about positions held under Bill Clinton, a “third way” leader who himself moved Democratic ideology dramatically to the right, the guy responsible for “ending welfare as we know it”. Since then, Democrats have moved much further yet to the right, in the fruitless search for a compromise with a Republican Party that sees compromise itself as fundamentally evil. The obvious example is that the Democrats in 2010 literally passed the universal health-insurance reform that had been proposed by the GOP opposition in the Clinton administration, only to find today’s GOP vilifying it as a form of Leninist socialist totalitarianism.

I actually did notice that error while reading it– no way did Democrats move from their 40 to their 25 (think back to the chart), but with Steinglass giving us this litany, it really is pretty clear the Mann and Ornstein were at least a little bit guilty of violating their own admonition against creating false equivalencies.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The yardlines

  1. Steve H says:

    I wonder if they ment to say that the democrats moved to the Republican 25 yard line. That would make more sense in the context of the article.

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