Thursday, May 05, 2005

Polarization Destroys Discussion

Jim Hoagland's column in the Washington Post today has spurred much discussion, mainly in the moderate corner of the blogosphere. The operative sections from Hoagland:

"The Bush White House bears a great deal of the responsibility for what the president correctly deplores as a 'lack of civility' in polarized Washington. His decision to force a public debate on Social Security, rather than follow the Reagan-era model of empowering a bipartisan commission to make painful compromises behind closed doors, is a good example of the confrontational approach and its costs.

The Democratic minority in Congress responds in kind, preferring political gain from opposing Bush (and his nominees) to compromises that would result in credit for the president. I once covered tribal politics in Kenya. The atmosphere in Washington today would be familiar to any Kikuyu or Luo politician I knew there.

'We are not just opponents or rivals now. We are enemies, with every fight being zero-sum,' says a senior Republican lawmaker sorrowfully. Echoes a Democrat: 'Compromise is seen as weakness by many of your constituents, and by all of your potential opponents in the next primary.'"

Alan Stewart Carl at The Yellow Line adds this:

"The point isn’t compromise. The point is that the two parties are completely estranged, unable to so much as open a dialogue. And it’s not just that the rhetoric is extreme - today’s partisans seem to actually believe their own smears and exaggerations.

In today’s partisan world, Democrats truly believe Republicans are full-on evil and Republicans truly believe Democrats are dangerously stupid. You can’t have a debate with an opponent you so thoroughly disrespect. So all we get is the shouting matches, hyperbolic insults and raw anger that comes from relationships gone horribly bad. ...

Republicans are not evil. Democrats are not stupid. Most people on both sides believe what they believe for solid reasons. But until our leaders learn to debate again - until the voters decide they want real debate again - we will be stuck in an endless, destructive face off between our dysfunctional political parties."

Rick Heller at Centerfield writes "I had hoped that centrism could be a bridge to alleviate the polarization. I still think it may in the future, but first there has to be a showdown in the 2006 election. Then, after the blood is cleaned up, there could be real movement toward moderation in 2008."

I think they're all right on the money. Those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum seem not only unwilling to engage in real debate, but they even in some cases go so far as to deny that the most basic premises of the other side's argument even exist. How can we have effective political dialogue in this country when that is the case?

The answer, quite simply, is that it's going to be up to those of us in the middle. It's not going to be easy, and it might take a metaphorical "bloodbath" in 2006, but we have got to return America to a point where people can engage each other in persuasive and comprehensive discussion on the issues of the day without resorting to name-calling or motive-impugning. Continuing in the current vein? It's just not an option.


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