Over the past few days, a few columns – Blow and Douthat at The Times – have touched on the widening gap between the right and left. This has obviously been expanding on the national stage since the Contract with America, Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Bush-Gore 2000 and became increasingly more tangible during the 8 years of W. In fact, the increased bitterness and animosity in American politics contributed to my wanting to write about my thoughts here. I just don’t get it.
Charles Blow decided that it was a battle for the soul of the country. The highest stakes imaginable. Ross Douthat saw these active political poles as a driver for the changing media landscape. Douthat tries to predict what CNN is going to do faced with the reality of last place behind Fox News and MSNBC.
This helped me realize that my basic premise is wrong. I have been assuming that the many, if not most, within the American electorate dislike the bitterness and are desperate for a new way of conducting our politics.
The truth is they do not care.
And the people who do care are entrenched in their parties, fueling the growing divide and enjoying the partisan programming. This latter group watches Fox News and MSNBC regularly, keeps the ratings for each high and then shifts to the Internet for blogs, forums and websites. This is who still pays attention to politics. I’m in a much more minority position than I originally thought.
Those on the right want to believe that they are fighting the good fight against a morally-relative, tyrannical government; those on the left want to see the right as naïve, backward religious zealots. The system is set-up to support this.
Nobody actually wants measured, reasonable discussion of real problems. That’s not sexy. That’s not lucrative.
Traditional media needs to survive in the era of .coms and social media. Politicians need content for their fundraisers, polarizing enemies and dramatic emotions to motivate voters. Voters love to live in simple world of good versus evil, favorite versus underdog, and us versus them. There is no incentive or benefit for any of these stakeholders to embrace a political gray area where complex issues and solutions are addressed and debated on a civilized level. That style does not raise money, doesn’t motivate action and makes it hard to distinguish the “us” from the “them.”
For the first time, perhaps due to my age, education or simply this time in our history, I am realizing that it will never change. There’s no one left to support a change. The politically powerful are isolated on these political poles. I originally thought, “The rest of us are stuck in the middle.” The truth is that the middle has simply fallen away. Independents might be courted every 4 years in Presidential elections, but are almost non-existent at any other time.
It’s no wonder journalists and pundits are suddenly recognizing these two “political extremes” and/or citing stories about political “vitriol.” The parties haven’t actually moved farther apart instead they are the only ones left in the game. The middle has withdrawn (or been kicked out) and in the resulting gap, it just seems like the two parties have moved apart.
Blow seemed to argue that this is headed for breaking point. Eventually these two parties cannot continue on this way and something will have to happen, something’s gotta give. I’m not so sure. That certainly might be the case, but it implies some group of voters, Independents, or “the rest of us” will get fed up and embrace a movement away from the decisiveness, scare tactics and petty politics. Sounds unlikely to me.