I have an essay in today’s NYT on America’s growing polarization. Marc Hetherington and I show what’s happened over the last 50 years, not just in Congress but among citizens, in 3 simple graphs.The first one is below, from McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal. It shows that things were really polarized in the late 19th century, after the civil war, then they got much less polarized, but it’s been a rapid climb upwards since the 1960s. We talk about why.
The next 2 graphs were made by Hetherington, and they are just as depressing. Click here to read the essay.
But we end on an optimistic note. There really are so many changes we could make to roll things back, perhaps to the level of polarization in the 1990s, which was much lower than it is today. But only if we push our leaders to make the changes. They will not make the changes themselves, because each change will probably favor one side or the other, so the disadvantaged side will fight like hell. But extreme pressure from outside, for a comprehensive package of reforms — a kind of good-government-Simpson-Bowles — might do it.
Post-script: see Pete Ditto’s call for “domestic realpolitik” to be realistic about how we’re going to get things done.Read More
I was a guest today on a new MSNBC show, The Cycle, which is interesting because it features one conservative and three liberals discussing the days issues in a friendly way — I love it every time I see models of cross-partisan amity and constructive disagreement.
We talked about the role that moral values play in the campaigns. The hosts wanted to talk about what makes swing voters decide, but I preferred to talk about what energizes the bases. We haven’t had an election where both sides aimed for the middle since 2000, when George W. Bush ran as a moderate compassionate conservative.
[Forgive my big speech error of saying “right” once when I clearly meant “left.”]
Here’s a lovely essay from Michael Rubens, a former producer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. For years, Rubens job was to produce segments in which Daily Show correspondents interview and make fun of people with far-out views, mostly on the far right:
So imagine how irksome it was to have to deal with persons like that on a constant basis and discover that those persons, in person, generally weren’t loathsome persons after all. In fact, to my great consternation and disappointment, I often liked them.
Rubens describes a series of tea partiers, rapture-believers, and state representatives who push gun rights and squash gay rights. He hated what they stood for and wanted to find them despicable, but after working with them he found them to be as nice as anyone on his own side. Even the spokeswoman for the hate-spewing Westboro Baptist Church, turned out to be “warm and affable and lovely.” Here’s Rubens conclusion:
What I’m hoping the lesson is: People are complex and can hold different views and still be moral actors — essentially the message that Jon Stewart talked about during his Rally for Sanity. Maybe you already grasp that concept, because you have good friends or loving relatives with beliefs that are wildly divergent from your own. But I tend to think my experience is more typical: I lived in a little bubble surrounded by people who think more or less like me. And when I considered people with opposing viewpoints I would turn into a fabulist, concocting an entire narrative of who they were and what they were like — and what they were like was yucko. Because I was not really interacting with them. I just thought I was, because, hey, look, there they are on the TV, or there’s that guy’s post in the comments section. But that stuff doesn’t count. Meeting people counts. Talking counts.
So yes, I love to loathe people, but my “Daily Show” experience complicated all that and sort of spoiled my fun. When I’m exposed to views that I dislike, I try to remind myself of the human being behind those views and to cut that person some slack. I hope that they would do the same. I think we should all fight hard for what we believe in, but I’d like to put in a request for some general slack cutting – especially as we move deeper into what is sure to be a very heated campaign season.