The two mainstream political parties in America have grown more bitter and more extreme.
Oh, I know there have been even more divisive times in American history. After all, I hear tell there was a Civil War a while back. But in my lifetime at least, the parties have morphed from two groups with somewhat differing opinions who seemed to be able to work together at times to two groups who cannot do so any more.
Case in point: the not-so-super-committee and the debt crisis. There is a crisis, no party has total control, therefore some sort of compromise is required, and we don’t have one.
This is the way it’s been for some time.
I bet quite a few of you are saying “Good! To tyrants I will give no quarter!” And indeed, there’s something to be said for a federal government that must move slowly and ponderously. But sometimes government needs to act, and then paralysis and intransigence is not good, and the ability to “come, let us reason together” would be helpful.
What’s going on? I’m not sure, but to the best of my recollection it was some time during the mid-90s that things became more polarized. The impeachment of Clinton did not help, nor did the rabid nature of the opposition to President Bush in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War. The internet may be part of it, escalating matters.
Another factor is that, as Congressional districts have been re-drawn to make them safer for one party or another, candidates have not been required to appeal to the middle, and the makeup of Congress has become more extreme on each side. I also read somewhere (can’t find the source right now; sorry) that the growth of airplane commuting has meant that fewer members of Congress regularly live and socialize in Washington DC, and therefore they don’t get to know each other better and can remain sworn enemies.
But part of it is that the public is angrier and less tolerant of compromise and more demanding of perfection. I’ve seen this even within each party. In fact, Jonathan Chait—a man with whom I don’t usually agree—wrote about this yesterday in relation to liberal Democrats’ anger at Obama. But I see a similar thing operating among Republicans; just switch the parties (and eliminate the example of Obama) in the following quote, and it would serve pretty well for the other side (except for the “dancing-in-the-streets-delirious” part; that’s not a Republican tendency):
Here is my explanation: Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.
It seems as though nearly everybody has morphed into Peter Finch’s character in “Network.” He used to seem extreme, but now he’s run-of-the-mill: