Cause and Consequences of Polarization

There’s a piece in the New Yorker, that I recommend by David Frum.  It suggests reason; and conswquences of the polarization of our politics.  For reason lets start with the media and how it has evolved:

Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

Can anyone listen to Rush Limbaugh and tell me the this description doesn’t fit like a glove.  How often does he proclaim it self the only source you’ll hear many supposed “truths” he lays out.  At the same time, he’s often said he’s an entertainer, and he isn’t shy about being focused on the business side of his show.  How often does Fox like to remind you they are the most watched of the cable networks.  Don’t tell they don’t craft their message as much for rating as anything else.  Clearly, we have media focused on keeping people scared and watching.  Being truly fair and balanced isn’t how you do that, and media on the right isn’t.  All this is also a reflection that media outlets have become more fragmented.  Few things bring people together to hear the same version of the facts, even if some don’t trust it.

Frum goes  on to discuss the consequences of this.

This is, unfortunately, not merely a concern for Republican voters. The conservative shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology has ominous real-world consequences for American society. The American system of government can’t work if the two sides wage all-out war upon each other: House, Senate, president, each has the power to thwart the others. In prior generations, the system evolved norms and habits to prevent this kind of stonewalling. For example: Theoretically, the party that holds the Senate could refuse to confirm any Cabinet nominees of a president of the other party. Yet until recently, this just “wasn’t done.” In fact, quite a lot of things that theoretically could be done just “weren’t done.” Now old inhibitions have given way. Things that weren’t done suddenly are done…

The next Republican president will surely find himself or herself at least as stymied by this dysfunction as President Obama, as will the people the political system supposedly serves, who must feel they have been subjected to a psychological experiment gone horribly wrong, pressing the red button in 2004 and getting a zap, pressing blue in 2008 for another zap, and now agonizing whether there is any choice that won’t zap them again in 2012.


One response to “Cause and Consequences of Polarization

  1. Wow! Frum really hits it on the head here. Too bad he’ll just be written off as a RINO by those who need to listen to what he’s saying the most.

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