Polarized America is Good (2014 Jul)

by Barry A. Liebling

Homogeneity and general agreement in the American polity is overrated. If you understand and support individual rights and the necessity of liberty you should make your case strongly – even if you live in an ocean of people inimical to freedom. Don’t worry about polarization.

Recently the Pew Research Center published the results of a large survey of Democrats and Republicans. The title “Political Polarization in the American Public” reveals the main conclusion of the survey; in the last 20 years Democrats and Republicans have moved farther apart from one another. The Democrats in the survey are a rough surrogate for America’s Progressive-Democrat-Left faction, while the Republicans are representative of the Conservative-Republican-Right camp.

Democrats have become more liberal (left), while Republicans have moved in a conservative (right) direction. The overlap in opinions and beliefs between members of the two parties has diminished. Democrats and Republicans have less positive regard for each other than they did two decades ago. Furthermore, these trends are especially strong among party members who are interested and active in politics. http://www.people-press.org/files/2014/06/6-12-2014-Political-Polarization-Release.pdf

The authors attempt to report their findings dispassionately. But they do not conceal their “moderation is good” mindset and are disappointed that the two parties are less inclined to reach compromises that meet half-way in the middle. Active Democrats and Republicans now push hard to get more than their rivals when they strike a political bargain.

The Pew Research Center investigators seem to deplore the intensified polarization uncovered by the survey. But for advocates of liberty it could be good news. It enhances their opportunity to convince more Americans that politics should be animated by a respect for freedom and individual rights.

Democrats quarrel among themselves over a host of issues, but they are united in their prime goal of growing the scope and size of government. For all problems government is the preferred method for finding a solution. New features in American life that are working well (think of the relatively unregulated internet) are sure candidates for government intervention to assure that they “work better” and are more “fair” to those favored by Democrats. If a government program fails, the appropriate response is more government programs and more “public investments.”

Besides being united in their objectives, the Democrats have a formidable advantage over the Republicans. They dominate key parts of American culture. Members of the educational establishment – from pre-school to college and graduate school – are mostly Democrats. The mainstream media (in contrast to outliers such as Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and talk radio) is heavily progressive. And the entertainment industry – music, television, movies – is populated primarily by supporters of the Democratic party.

Note that increased polarization and a heightened interest in political topics is precisely what the Democrats do not need. They are already the top dog. Articulate, conceptually-sound challenges to their progressive agenda is likely to erode their popularity. They have done very well when their serious intellectual rivals have been largely ignored by the general public, and it is in their interest to keep things that way.

The more conflict there is between the right and the left, the more people previously not concerned with politics will take notice. The cynical platitude “there is no difference between the parties” may cease to be accurate. With polarization there is an enhanced chance that the case for individual liberty will win new converts.

But political polarization does not necessarily lead to a wave of freedom-inspired attitudes. The correct case for liberty has to be made. And here is where the Republican party is key. It has the potential to be a positive force, but it also could make things worse. A lot depends on who prevails in the struggle that is going on among the heterogenous, perpetually-bickering, Republicans.

What unites Republicans is their desire to defeat Democrats. Because that is the one thing they can agree on there is some justification for the pejorative description of Republicans as the party of “no.” Republican leaders are aware that it is not enough to be against the Democrats; they have to be for something. And members of the party continue to wrangle with one another on this issue.

The pro-freedom group – still small but growing – deserves to triumph. Members of this faction are focused on reducing the scope and size of government, lowering taxes, and eliminating inappropriate regulations. They have the good sense to refrain from using the government to meddle in citizens’ private lives.

Opposing them are the main-stream, establishment, “realistic and mature” Republicans who believe it is too radical and extreme to attack the welfare state. Many admit that they have no problem with it in principle; their frustration is with how poorly the Democrats are running it. When elected their intention is to manage the welfare state more efficiently and effectively guided by “conservative values.” Critics of mainstream Republicans describe them as Democrats in slow motion.

Also in conflict with the pro-freedom faction are the socially conservative Republicans who are animated by a desire to use the power of government to enforce their views on preserving tradition, religion, marriage, and the family. They are likely to regard Democrats – who want to control nearly everything else – as too permissive.

The sharp disagreements among Republicans might lead to a vitalized political force that can successfully take on the Democrats’ hegemony. If those on the right who embrace liberty make their case effectively – converting large numbers of Republican, Democrat and independent voters – the political climate of the nation will improve radically. Polarization can be a force for good.

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

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