Thursday, February 22, 2007

Unity08 and fellow travellers Tony Snow and David Gregory promote Un-American activities.

This gem by way of QandO blog and Think Progress:
"NBC News’ David Gregory bemoaned how political coverage has “become so polarized in this country…because it’s the internet and the blogs that have really used this White House press conferences to somehow support positions out in America, political views.” Tony Snow admitted he sometimes reads blogs (”I’ll occasionally punch it up”) only to find “wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out.”
So... Gregory and Snow agree that the blogosphere has exacerbated these new extremes of "hateful" partisan "polarization" in American politics. Bloggers at QandO and ThinkProgress take umbrage (as did blogs from across the political spectrum including Starked, The RNC Blog,, RedState, TexasFred, Hullaballoo, Shakespeare's Sister, Crooks and Liars, etc.) And just like that, Gregory and Snow have swept away all political partisanship in the blogosphere in a unified display of bi-partisan outpouring of scorn heaped on umm... Gregory and Snow.

QandO blogs reaction serves as a proxy:
"Blogs aren't the reason that political coverage has "become so polaraized in this country", they're the result. The reason for such polarization lies with the political and journalistic class in this country."
While they may differ on who is to blame for the polarization, all agree that this political polarization is really, really bad. Indeed, I just received another e-mail from Sam Waterston, the trusted face of the Unity08 promoters (noted anti-polarizers) asking for donations to help fight this scourge of polarized partisan politics in America. Unity08, despite having no candidates, and no actual positions on any issues facing this country, is garnering all kinds of publicity, built a slick web-site with a large community, and working on raising millions of dollars. All this on the strength of nothing but taking a principled stand against partisan polarized politics. Here Unity08 speaks out boldly on "What We Believe":
"Unity08 believes that neither of today’s major parties reflects the aspirations, fears or will of the majority of Americans. Both have polarized and alienated the people."
So this is what I don't get. Exactly when in our history did this golden era of partisan comity, respectful debate, and political unity (which we are apparently so nostalgic for) actually occur?

Just tell me - when was it like that? When?

I wonder, because my understanding of our history is that the kind of rancor and political polarization in the United States we see today is the rule, and not the exception. In fact, it strikes me that in historical context, we are today quite a bit less polarized and extreme than these examples:
"During the nation's first contested presidential election in 1796, supporters of Vice President John Adams charged his challenger, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, with atheism, sexual improprieties, and dangerous revolutionary intentions. For their part, Jefferson backers accused Adams of plotting to establish a monarchy, crown himself king, and ally the country with its foe, Great Britain."

"In the election of 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson was tarred as an agent of the French Revolution..."

"Opponents of Andrew Jackson accused him of murder, while Old Hickory’s men whispered that his rival John Quincy Adams had been, while U.S. minister to Russia, a pimp for the tsar.."

"In 1864 the Lincoln reelection campaign equated opposition to the president and the Republican party with disloyalty to the Union..., depicted the Democrats essentially as traitors."

"Democrats also got personal, characterizing Grant as an alcoholic, uncouth, simple-minded, unprincipled, Negro-loving tyrant... "

"After the Civil War the Republicans would "wave the bloody shirt"-that is, associate the Democratic party with secession and opposition to the Union war effort-in every presidential election into the 1880s. The 1868 Democratic presidential nominee, Horatio Seymour, was an especial target of the "bloody shirt" because while New York governor in 1863 he had addressed the New York City draft rioters as "My friends." Others labeled his links to the Peace Democrats as the equivalence of treason."

"Democrats accused Rutherford Hayes of stealing the pay of deceased soldiers while he was a Union general, opposing citizenship for all immigrants, and income tax fraud. One Democrat encouraged the Tilden camp, to no avail, to investigate the question, "Did Hayes shoot his mother in a fit of insanity?"

"An Oct. 26 headline in the New York Times: "President Likens Dewey to Hitler as Fascists’ Tool."
And of course there is the particularly divisive 1860 election, when we as a country, actually decided to spend the post election environment literally shooting and killing over 600,000 of our fellow citizens.

One is tempted to suggest that unity, political civility, and polite debate is downright Un-American.

This interesting fact is from the same excellent HarpWeek website quoted above:
"The period from 1840 to 1890 has been labeled "the party period" and "the golden age of parties" because the major political parties (Democrats and Whigs until the mid-1850s, then Democrats and Republicans) were the strongest they have been in American history. Party leaders used patronage and campaign practices that aroused partisan enthusiasm to gain wide membership and keep them loyal and active. It worked. Voter turnout during this period was the highest in American history: between 70 and 80 percent for presidential elections and sometimes higher in state and local contests."
By comparison, the Voter turnout in the recent 2006 midterm election was slightly over 40%, an increase over the 39.7% turnout in the 2002 midterms. In the 2004 and 2000 presidential elections the turnout was 55% and 50% respectively.

Sure, this is only a couple of data points, but being a polarizing blogger I have no problem leaping to a sweeping conclusion. It seems pretty obvious to me, that if we want more participation by the American voting populace, we want more, not less, political polarization. And conversely, a unified, politically correct, socially acceptable and boring form of partisan discourse, will inevitably result in less participation in the political process.

What to do ? I suggest we just don't pay attention to those Un-American unifiers.

Instead, I submit for your consideration - Divided We Stand United We Fall Rule #1:

Polarized Partisan Politics Promotes Popular Participation.

Divided and Balanced.™ Now that is fair.


Roly said...

I'm gonna go out on a whim here and say that there are a few things I disagree with here.

Obviously you know I've been looking at Unity08. I agree that right now all they are is talk. But then again, so are both political parties.

And during this golden age of parties was a civil war. If anything the people felt compelled to go to the polls to voice their opinion. Although this is exactly what we want, we do not want it if it is going to cause more problems. Polarization is fine if the things that are polarizing are ways to fix problems that affect everyone. Personally, I do not believe abortion and capital punishment are the most important issues facing our country right now. Healthcare, social security, the war, and education seem to be important to me. If democrat and republicans are fighting like crazy over what is the best way to fix problems that are important and not about a hypothetical abortion scenario, I think we'd be a lot better off.

I am also going to go ahead and make an argument that opposing viewpoints within the same branch of government (a bipartisan cabinet for example) may actually be a form of divided government. If disagreement makes the executive branch more efficient maybe this is the way to go?

mw said...

I'll take these in reverse order. It surprises me how frequently I get arguments like: "divided government does not just mean executive and legislative branches in different parties, it also can mean [FILL IN THE BLANK]."

Sure it can mean a bipartisan cabinet, or it mean an ideological split within the Republican party as some argue, or it can mean an ideological split within the Democratic party as others argue, or it can mean gray hair vs. bald, or brown shoes vs. black, or it can mean anything else you want it to mean.


In this blog I reference historical research and analysis by scholars and economists who hypothesize causal relationships based on a specific definition of Divided Government: one party controls the White House and another party controls one or both houses of Congress. Now, if I am advocating (as I am), a voting strategy based on that research, the strategy will have no validity or foundation if I use a different defintion than the research on which it is based.

Economist and Reagan economic advisor William Niskanen has shown that federal spending growth is restrained under divided government, using this definition of divided government. I would like to see the growth of federal spending restrained, so I advocate voting to maintain divided government, using the same definition of divided government that Niskanen does.

If you have research showing the consquences on spending growth when we have a divided government defined as a mixed cabinet, or an ideologically split single party, then there is something to talk about. I am unaware of any such research. Until I see it, I'll stick with this defintion.

Back to the Unity08 boys. Although I have expressed my skepticism, I do not rule out supporting a Unity08 presidential candidate. In fact, I have signed up as a Unity08 delegate. Maybe they will nominate and run a strong Republican or Independent Presidential candidate that would fulfill my divided government preference with the likely Democratic Congress. I'd be perfectly fine with that. I just think the entire foundation of the organization is built on logical sand. Running against polarized partisan politics is a smoke screen to obfuscate the fact that they actually have taken no stands on any real issues and have no candidates. Hence my skepticism. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.

Thanks again for stopping by and for the thoughtful comments.

mw said...

One more thing. You said:"Personally, I do not believe abortion and capital punishment are the most important issues facing our country right now. Healthcare, social security, the war, and education seem to be important to me."

If and when Unity08 does pick a candidate and take a stand on issues, they will either be in agreement with your perspective as stated above, or not. If not, I suspect you will be considerably less enamoured with Unity08. Hence the false "Unity" of Unity08.

Roly said...

I understand the research and I agree that it makes sense.

With Unity08 I do not disagree with you. Unity08 still does not have a platform or a candidate. The good thing though is that platform will be chosen by the selected candidate without any type of "this is better for our party" influence.

This is a very sketchy situation. Almost too idealistic. Either Unity08 delivers, or it doesn't. I'd like to hope that all the arguing I've been doing on it's behalf in the blogosphere is worth it and not done in vain. I think they can do it.