The Polarized Political Climate

Last night was a double treat for me: I dodged the torturous bedtime ritual and attended a smart debate about politics. (Afterwards, I was so covetous of my freedom that I skipped down 5th Avenue like an escaped convict, unsure of what to do next.)

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn of my interest in the theme of the debate:

As the election season approaches, we take a look at the current political climate. How might bipartisanship find opportunities to blossom? And where do the extremes of both Democrats and Republicans fit?

The three participants were quite articulate and the exchanges were civil. I’ll highlight one or two, as well as a few notable soundbites.

At one point in the discussion, John Avlon (echoing Jon Stewart’s complaint) made some excellent (but obvious) points about America’s  poisonous political dialogue and why it is self-reinforcing:

The extremes empower each other…they feed off each other.

And like Stewart, Avlon also said that, “We give the extremes on our sides a pass.”

Peter Beinart, who appeared glum throughout and barely looked at his two fellow participants the entire evening, rejected the “equivalency” implicit in the both-sides-are-at-fault argument. (Beinart otherwise said a lot of smart things, but his body english screamed, I’d rather not be here, sitting next to these two guys.)

Avlon, for his part, was insightful and exuberant, sometimes too much so, as he couldn’t help nodding or shaking his head vigorously when others were talking. I found that mildly distracting. But most of my notes are filled with his quips, such as his observation that closed party primaries (where the activist, most extreme wing of a party is pandered to) and gerrymandering of congressional districts are the “fundamental drivers of polarization. They distort our politics.”

There was talk of Sarah Palin, of course. Matt Welch, who edits Reason, the Libertarian magazine, called her “the most effective culture warrior right now.”

Oddly, none of the participants talked much about the culture wars (abortion, gay marriage, immigration, etc) that continually stoke the polarization in U.S. politics. They chose instead to focus on the media’s role and the structural faults in the political system.

They also seemed quite certain of everything they said, an attitude that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to political flexibility.

14 Responses to “The Polarized Political Climate”

  1. EdG says:

    Unfortunately, while Jon Stewart talks the ‘non-partisan’ talk for effect, he is still hopelessly partisan. 
    The proof is the content of his show.

    In any case, the manipulators at the top use the divide and conquer method all the time and they love this increasing polarization. Keeps the masses from seeing what is really going on. Switch puppets every four to eight years while the Fed gang just cruises along.

  2. kdk33 says:

    I’m unaware of an even mild immigration controversy; criminal entry into the US is a different story.  Did you mean the former or the later?

    If the former, what exactly is the controversy.  If the later, why the euphamism?

  3. Keith Kloor says:


    Just like there is no war on drugs controversy. It’s just about drug offenders getting their due, right?

    Please. Call it whatever you want. But immigration is part of the culture wars.

  4. kdk33 says:

    “The question” said Alice, “is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question” said Humpty Dumpty, “is which is to be master – that’s all.”

  5. Bob Koss says:

    I’m with kdk33 on his immigration point. I can’t think of anyone who has a problem with legal immigration. Illegal immigration is another story. What’s with the snippy retort about drug wars and drug offenders? That is entirely a different can of worms.
    Do you really think there is some big cultural divide with respect to legal immigration? If not, your casual conflation of two different issues is poor communication. I thought journalist were supposed to strive for excellence in communication. I’m not one though, so maybe that isn’t part of the journalistic ethos.
    If you really think there is some big cultural divide on legal immigration, maybe you could do a post on it and make us aware of it.

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    We’ve declared war on a lot of things, ranging from poverty to drugs to cancer, etc. To the best of my knowledge we’re 0 for the lot.

  7. Jeff Norris says:

    Your exchange with kdk is sort of an example of how the media for various reasons put issues in the most polarizing and base light.  Don’t know of many on the right who are for limiting legal immigration, there are some issues about all those B 1 and H B1 visas that both sides are questioning very quietly.   So who is to blame?  The Congress person who is willing to say the most provocative statement or the Media who seeks them out for that zinger sound bite.    

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Jeff (7)

    Take your pick: Tom Tancredo and/or Lou Dobbs (when he was at CNN) were infamous for their shameless demagoguery on immigration.

    Those are just the first two that spring to mind, but there are many others.

  9. Bob Koss says:

    I rarely watch CNN. What kind of immigration was being demagogued?

  10. harrywr2 says:

    Bob Koss Says:
    June 15th, 2011 at 4:51 pm I’m with kdk33 on his immigration point. I can’t think of anyone who has a problem with legal immigration.
    Maybe you should consult with unions that employ high wage blue collar workers. US Immigration policy is that we don’t allow immigration for semi-skilled and unskilled workers. (We do but the quota’s are so low as to make them all but non-existant)
    The problem with legal immigration for semi-skilled and unskilled workers is that the applicants can apply for jobs at any US company.
    By keeping them ‘illegal’ they don’t end up taking high paying blue collar jobs at union shops. They end up taking low paying jobs at small companies no one ever heard of.
    I live in the Pacific Northwest…I haven’t seen a white, asian or black man operate a shovel or lawnmower in 20 years. There is always a white,asian or black man supervising the Mexican operating the shovel or lawn mower. If the Mexican’s were ‘legal’ they could open their own lawn mowing service, and the white,black or asian owner would be out of a job.
    Everybody knows Jose only gets paid $10/lawn by Mr Chan…but Mr Chan charges $20/lawn.   It doesn’t matter what lawn service one hires..Jose is the one that shows up to mow the lawn.
    Lot’s of people are opposed to a guest worker program. Many of them the very same people who employ ‘illegal’ immigrants.

  11. Jeff Norris says:

    I said illegal immigration not immigration.  There is a difference just like legal possession of prescription drugs and illegal possession. 
    And yes the difference is having the right set of Doctors i.e. Rush, Michael Jackson and Nicole Smith.

  12. Jeff Norris says:

    This article though dated shows the rank and file oppose illegal immigration but  the actual Union leaders see them as more dues payers and expanding their political  power.
    The SEIU is big on recruiting from industries that rely on illegal immigration which is scarring the hell out of the AFL-CIO old school Unions.
    Here is So Cal union no union you cannot lay a block or pour concrete without  illegal aliens.   The other trades are still pretty anglo.   

  13. kdk33 says:

    “Union leaders see them [illegals] as more dues payers and expanding their political  power”

    Indeed.  Ditto liberal politicians.  Which explains a lot.

  14. Dean says:

    This part:
    “But most of my notes are filled with his quips, such as his observation that closed party primaries (where the activist, most extreme wing of a party is pandered to) and gerrymandering of congressional districts are the “fundamental drivers of polarization.”
    is the one that bothers me. It’s very rare that I vote for a candidate of one of the two old parties and I think that they drive partisanship to a large degree. I also think that people confuse partisanehip with radicalism, though that is a separate issue,
    But opening up primaries is a panacea that solves nothing. All it does is allow people to choose which of the old party’s candidates are in the general election without the voter having to join that party. As such it really cements their control of the ballot. These parties usually oppose open ballots because they lose control of the nomination process, but it does not undermine their larger role. And with the so-called Top Two system become more popular now (it was adopted in Calif last year), alternative parties are dead in the water as third party candidates essentially never get on a general election ballot for higher office with Top Two.
    Much better would be to open the system up to new parties. Now it is next to impossible for an alternative party to become viable. The lack of viability initially because it is so hard just to get on the ballot in many states (and for other reasons as well) makes them less attractive to some and drives them to be more influenced by fringe people, who are more interested in dominating an organization than affecting policy.

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