“Polarization” is the new “incivility”


pew chart

Pew recently released a survey that showed Americans to be (holy shit!) polarized on a variety of issues. Predictably, this has set off a flurry of pearl clutching and smelling salt huffing in Upper Elitist Punditopia about the nettlesome yokels. Here’s the Washington Post fretting over it.

There was a time in the not too distant past when conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans made up significant parts of their respective coalitions. Northeastern Republicans moderated the GOP, while Southern Democrats pulled their party to the right.

Those days are over. A new mega-survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades. At the same time, the ideological overlap between the parties has shrunk to historic lows: Now, 92 percent of Republicans are to the right of the average Democrat, while 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the average Republican.

Both Sides™!!

What I see is simply a reflection that the GOP has solidified into a party of older white voters, who are more likely to be conservative, while other groups are embracing more liberal and egalitarian views. The latter tend to vote Democratic. I’m not eager to return to the days of Southern racists being a major bloc among the Democrats so I’m not troubled by this “polarization” at all.

But Margie Omero of some consulting outfit called Purple Strategies is! Here she is on MSNBC talking about the Pew survey (sorry, I can’t embed videos from certain sites).

Omero is deeply worried about “the most politically engaged voters”, who she claims have too much “animosity toward the other side”. This, she says, has produced “greater polarization in Congress”. She wants us yokels to stop being so nettlesome and try to “understand where the other side is coming from”. To “find middle ground”. To think about “putting ourselves in others’ shoes”. Both Sides™!!

Sure, Margie. Let’s take a crack at understanding this guy, a commenter to LifeSiteNews.com (which I read so you don’t have to).

“Among the factors driving fertility downward is the radical redefining of human sexuality that has occurred over the past half-century.” And this is by way of the so-called “empowerment” of women that allows them to shirk the responsibility to society and government to have children. Just as men have the responsibility they cannot (or should not be able to) avoid, military service to defend the country, women are obliged to have children. To those that say “impossible,” I say eliminate abortion, contraception, sterilization; create incentives for early marriage (make fornication illegal, as it was not long ago) and let nature, and the nature God has bestowed upon us humans, take its course.

He sounds like a lot of “politically engaged” Republicans I encounter. And I don’t have any trouble understanding where this guy is coming from at all! He is very calmly, clearly, and succinctly describing exactly the type of horrific policies he would like to force on women. Margie Omero will have to forgive me for having “animosity” toward his views and wanting to stay as far the hell away as possible from him, but perhaps she’d like to grab a beer with him and try to find some common ground. Maybe she can find some Birthers and gun fetishists to sing kumbaya with too. Good luck with that.

The admonition to reach out to the other side is directed at liberals, since liberals pride ourselves on being fairminded, and we are seen to embody more nurturing qualities associated with women. Just as with “civility”, these calls from elite pundits to lessen the “polarization” seem like attempts to guilt liberals (and moderates too) into doing emotional relationship-building work typically expected of women, and to dial back the march for social justice.

I get that gridlock in Congress is a real problem but the solution to it won’t be found in admonishing me to soothe the feelings of my Birther neighbor. The problems with that institution are severalfold. They include gerrymandered districts in the House and over-representation of sparsely populated states in the Senate, abuse of the filibuster, the tendency of Democratic voters to sit out midterms (thus diluting their own power), and (of course) the influence of big money.