Election Will Increase Divisiveness (2012 Sep)

by Barry A. Liebling

When President Obama was elected in 2008 many of his supporters predicted that he would reduce divisiveness, rise above narrow partisanship, and “bring this country together.” Of course, contrary to what some anticipated, since 2008 partisan sentiments among both Democrats and Republicans have been dramatically magnified. Advocates for each side are convinced that their opponents have a fundamentally flawed view of what government is supposed to do.

The 2012 presidential election has been described as especially significant because it presents Americans with a choice between two distinctive paths. Some commentators have naively asserted that it might heal the political rift and give “the people” an opportunity to decide which direction the country will take.

But the election is not likely to bring members of the two major parties any closer together. No matter who is elected president a large number of citizens who are interested in politics will be bitterly disappointed and energized to redouble their efforts to defeat the victorious side.

Consider the Democrats. While they disagree among themselves on a host of issues, a theme that unites them is their affection for an ever-expanding welfare state. The general principle they embrace is that government has the sacred mission to be omnipresent – fixing whatever is broken and improving what is not. In the American mixed economy – where both private efforts and government intervention are continuously in play – Democrats have a keen desire to escalate in perpetuity the role of government. To a Democrat every tragic event and each unfavorable outcome is an indication that the state has not supervised closely enough, and the remedy is to turn up government’s volume.

And how do Democrats respond if there is prosperity and people are doing well? When the private sector produces spectacular, positive results (the commercialization of the internet is a good example) Democrats see a cloud around the silver lining. Even if everyone is better off Democrats are sick with envious worry that there is “too much inequality.” This means that those the Democrats despise “have too much” and those they favor (think of protected classes) “have too little.” Naturally, the solution is for the government to charge in and “redistribute the wealth.”

The Republicans are more heterogenous in their political beliefs, but they tend to agree that Democrats’ infatuation with ever increasing government intervention is a mistake. While there are many varieties of Republicans, three types are noteworthy.

Accommodating Republicans are essentially Democrats in slow motion. Their chief complaint is that Democrats propose policies that go “too far, too soon.” The accommodationists believe in compromise, bi-partisan cooperation, and coming to a consensus. They see themselves as “mature and adult” because they are willing to reach across the aisle and grant the Democrats at least some of their demands for expanding the government. And in the next round of negotiations – to prove they are open-minded – the accommodationists will give the Democrats more.

Conservative Republicans are classic traditionalists. To them, looking to the past is the key to wise politics. While not everything old is good, nearly everything good is old. A new policy that has not been tried before is viewed with suspicion precisely because it is novel. Note that these traditionalists are the mirror image of progressive leftists who are always looking for “new ideas” and “new approaches” and are wary of anything that is old. Conservative Republicans fought vigorously against Social Security when it was first proposed, but now that it has survived for such a long time they will work to preserve it. Conservative Republicans were against Medicare before it became law, but a government program that has been in force for half a century must be worth keeping. As of now, conservative Republicans are fiercely against the Democratic agenda, but savvy Democrats know that all it takes is time to win them over.

Free market Republicans have a better understanding of principles than either the accommodationists or the conservatives. They have some appreciation for the idea that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights. Free market Republicans understand that the idea of the welfare state is fundamentally at odds with freedom, and in the long run it should be phased out. These Republicans – who are sympathetic to the Tea Party – support limited government and make efforts to keep other Republicans in line. They are the Republicans who are most responsible for polarizing the party in direct opposition to the Democratic agenda.

However the presidential election turns out there will be angry Democrats or frustrated free market Republicans resolved to work even harder to win the next election. Convincing more Americans that individual rights are vital might reduce divisiveness, but relying on the ballot box will not.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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