Friday, March 5, 2010

Political Polarization

(This is an illustration of how much I loathe word limits. The original essay was a little over 2,000 words. I had to cram it into 330, and the result pains me. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating topic.)


In spite of President Clinton’s attempts at political centrism during the 1990's, America continued the trend of political polarization, establishing the accepted politically partisan environment that we’re familiar with today. American communities are politically lopsided, and in the 2000 presidential election “when George Bush and Al Gore were virtually tied nationally, 45.3 percent of voters lived in a landslide county.” (Bishop) Political polarization, which began developing after World War I, became extremely prevalent in the mid 1990's. Violent discriminative protesting, as evidenced in the murder of James Byrd, Jr., and the attack of Matthew Shepard, resulted in different interpretations of these events. The political left saw this as further proof that American needed hate-crime legislation, while the conservative political right claimed it was merely the result of an overly permissive society. With conflicting world views on current events, the culture moved into set political dogmas, with a chasm between them. (Schultz)

Political polarization doesn’t just cause a chasm in the culture. As party loyalty becomes more defined, counties push their representatives to make more extreme stands on issues. Legislative compromise, which is a key part of any successful political career, plays less of a role. And as political polarization becomes more integrated in the culture, communities are more apt to continue the trend of voting for the same party as the generation before them. Bill Bishop says, “Sixty percent of Republican voters live in counties that have voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1980.”(Bishop)

A professor of law at the University of Chicago made the statement, "Our democracy is supposed to be one where people learn from one another and listen." (Bishop) I believe that the conservative and liberal wings of politics are two necessary halves to the whole picture, and at times both can be wrong. When people vote for a candidate just because he’s in their political party, they display a lack of mature patriotism. Mature patriotism was displayed by our founding fathers when, in spite of their fiery disagreements over the formation of government, they united to form “fiercely differing perspectives to forge a better form of government than any side would have created alone.” (Gruder)

Schultz, Kevin, “HIST: Student Edition”, Chapter 29: America in the Information Age

Bishop, Bill, “Articles on Political Polarization,”

Gruder, David, “”Mature Patriotism in an Era of Political Polarization,

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