Polarization Is Here to Stay

A Response to "The Polarization Paradox"

By temperament I’m deeply sympathetic to Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele’s argument in "The Polarization Paradox," and welcome the unusual range of data that they have brought to bear on the subject of polarization and liberal hope, drawing on cognitive science and social psychology as well as institutional political science.

The authors’ point that “compromise and reasonableness can be every bit as potent a weapon for liberals as polarization has been for conservatives” sounds a lot like a sentence I wrote in 2007 about the emerging candidacy of Barack Obama: “Perhaps we are being too literal in thinking that ‘hope’ and bipartisanship are things that Obama naively believes are present and possible,” I wrote, “when in fact they are a tactic, a method of subverting and breaking the unified conservative power structure.”

But time has not been kind to my 2007 argument.

Read more

image alt

Debate Abstract

It has become conventional wisdom that we live in a deeply polarized time, and conservatives deserve the bulk of the blame for a predicament that has replaced what genuine disagreement and compromise remained with dangerous political brinksmanship. The question for liberals is how to advance an agenda in a hyperpartisan political environment.

In their Breakthrough Journal essay, “The Polarization Paradox,” Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele argue that adopting the partisan tactics of the Right is a losing game for liberals. Polarization serves conservatives by ratcheting up gridlock, undermining support for government, and exacerbating apathy among groups that tend to favor Democrats. Liberals, they contend, should instead invest in a politics that will undermine partisanship.

Yet polarization – and the broader structure that drives it – appears unlikely to go away any time soon, and the Obama era has shown that Democrats simply lack the capacity to unilaterally change the game, writes Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Mark Schmitt in a new Breakthrough Journal debate. The partisan infrastructure progressives created has proven adept at countering the propaganda of the Right and articulating a much needed political vision, Schmitt argues, while efforts to reach out and forge compromise have achieved little. The task for liberals is to invest in a politics and infrastructure that advance their agenda even in the face of a structurally polarized system.

Read “The Polarization Paradox,” by Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele.

Read “Polarization Is Here to Stay,” by Mark Schmitt.