In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: taking a look at political polarization in the American public. This is The Two Minute Drill for January 30, 2015.
“No sooner has one party discovered or invented any amelioration to the condition of man, or the other of society than the opposition party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it.” – John Adams, 1813 letter to Thomas Jefferson.
“[Partisanship] consumes good and smart people and leads them to put politics ahead of progress . . . [I]t prevents conversations about the hard choices that need to be made to achieve real reform.” – Michael Bloomberg, 2008 discussion on government reform on NewTalk.org.
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
Much has been made of the increasingly partisan nature of American politics. By many accounts, the United States has become more politically partisan than at any time in its modern history. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans are becoming either more liberal or more conservative as the center shrinks, more Democrats and Republicans view the opposing party as a “threat to the nation’s well being,” each party has grown increasingly contemptuous of the other, many partisans prefer to live among and surround themselves with those who share their political views, and, at either end of the spectrum, compromise means the other side embracing everything you believe in.
It seems that almost everything has become a political issue. A recent NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, for example, asked Americans to rate their 2014s. The result was hardly bipartisan. While 70 percent of Democrats rated 2014 as average or better, 77 percent of Republicans rated it below average. These numbers were strongly correlated to how people feel about President Obama. Essentially, if you like Obama, you liked 2014; if you don’t like Obama, you’re far less likely to have liked 2014. We need to go beyond such partisanship. No argument there.
However, implicit in much of the discussion over partisanship is the belief that politicians would do a better job if they were immune to partisan considerations. But this faith in non-partisans may not be justified. Of course, it is difficult to suggest that partisanship that creates paralysis in the face of pressing national need is a good thing. However, it is far from clear that a Congress populated by non-partisans would exercise its responsibilities in a more socially responsible matter. In fact, the indignant call for “bipartisanship” is often bellowed by the most partisan among us.
What’s so wrong with political partisanship, anyway? It’s very easy to get swept up in the belief that policy problems have obvious answers, and to attribute the failure to converge on these “obvious answers” to partisanship. Reality, however, is quite different. The policy problems our country faces are difficult. The machinery of government is complicated. And serious people have principled differences of opinion about what we should do.
Constructive partisanship – including often cantankerous, cacophonous, contentious partisanship – is rooted in our Constitution. The clash of contending forces is the sound of democracy at work. It is certainly true that, sometimes, partisanship is driven by pure lunacy. But most of the time, the differences between our two great parties matter.
Word Count: 416
The Five Best Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles we read this week:
- The Apple of Your I. “Apple reported a blockbuster quarter on Tuesday, blowing past Wall Street’s most optimistic expectations,” CNBC reported. Consider this one stat: Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones last quarter (that’s about 30,000 per hour). The consider this: after yesterday’s results were announced, “Apple rose in value by one entire Yahoo.” Buzzfeed tries to put the ridiculous numbers in perspective.
- Spell Check. “We lost all our credibility as all our suppliers thought we were in liquidation. It was like a snowball effect.” My typos can sometimes cause confusion. This one just ruined a business. From Camilla Turner in The Telegraph: Government in £9 Million Payout after Single Letter Blunder Causes Business to Collapse.
- Snow Job. “This shall be a tempest the likes of which has never been glimpsed by man or beast. Clutch your babes close to your breast and take small comfort in knowing that they will howl for but a few hours before death becalms them forever.” The Onion takes aim at the coverage of the massive storm that just hammered the Northeast. Snow is on the mind. Here’s a few answers to your most burning questions. Is it OK to eat snow? And are you an asshole for ordering food in a blizzard?
- Tastes Like Chicken. “Late one night in September of 2013, Rick Schiller awoke in bed with his right leg throbbing . . . At the hospital, five employees helped move Schiller from the car to a consulting room. When a doctor examined his leg, she warned him that it was so swollen there was a chance it might burst. She tried to remove fluid with a needle, but nothing came out. ‘So she goes in with a bigger needle – nothing comes out,’ Schillder said. ‘Then she goes in with a huge needle, like the size of a pencil lead – nothing comes out.’ When the doctor tugged on the plunger, the syringe filled with a chunky, meatlike substance. ‘And then she gasped,’ Schiller said.” From Wil S. Hylton in The New Yorker: A Bug in the System: Why Last Night’s Chicken Made You Sick.
- The Friendship Nine. In 1961, nine black men in South Carolina were convicted of trespassing on a whites-only lunch counter. On Wednesday, Judge John C. Hayes II, the nephew of the judge who handed down the original sentence, vacated their trespassing convictions. “We cannot rewrite history, but we can right history,” said Judge Hayes. “The prosecutor apologized to the eight surviving members of the Friendship Nine who were in the courtroom.” From NPR: Judge Throws Out Friendship 9’s Civil Rights-Era Conviction.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look at the state of federal fracking regulation. Read the Column for January 27, 2015 – The Federal Government Must Regulate This Fracking Mess.