Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Polarization

As I ponder my debate with Tom the Democrat (Debating a Democrat, 2/18/06) and read the comments from Brian, Dori, Dave, Greg, Jim, John, Prim, Ray, Tom R. on my side, and from Andy, Anonymous and Tex on Tom’s side, I wonder: Are we the same species? Or is it that Republicans (not men) come from Mars, while Democrats (not women) come from Venus?

Does the obvious polarization apply only to the Iraq war issue or is there a more fundamental, more widespread divide? James Q. Wilson addressed this question in his article “How Divided Are We” in the Feb. 2006 issue of Commentary magazine. Wilson defines polarization as “an intense commitment to a candidate, a culture, or an ideology that sets people in one group definitively apart from people in another, rival group.” When it comes to the presidency of George W. Bush or the war in Iraq, polarization is the operable term. What about other issues?

Dave Barry summed up the distinction between Republicans and Democrats in his own unique way: Republicans are “ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying road-kill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks,” while Democrats are “godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving leftwing Communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts.” It does sound a bit like Mars vs. Venus.

But, seriously, the most significant issues that separate us, in addition to the war in Iraq, are the use of military strength, abortion, judicial activism, entitlements and social secularization.

Since the Reagan era, Republicans have believed that “the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.” By the late 1990’s well over two-thirds of all Republicans agreed with this view, but far fewer than half of all Democrats did.


In the fall of 2005, according to Gallup, 81 percent of Democrats but only 20 percent of Republicans thought the war in Iraq was a mistake. Three-fourths of all Democrats but less than a third of all Republicans told pollsters that good diplomacy was the best way to ensure peace. In the same survey, two-thirds of all Republicans but only one fourth of all Democrats said they would fight for this country “whether it is right or wrong.” This is Mars vs. Venus at its most elemental.

In his book “Culture War: The Myth of a Polarized America,” Morris Fiorina looked at the abortion issue. Between 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, and now, Fiorina writes, there has been no change in the degree to which people will or will not accept any one of six reasons to justify an abortion: (1) the woman’s health is endangered; (2) she became pregnant because of a rape; (3) there is a strong chance of a fetal defect; (4) the family has a low income; (5) the woman is not married; (6) and the woman simply wants no more children.

Only about 40 percent of all Americans will support abortion for any of the last three reasons in his series, while over 80 percent will support it for one or another of the first three. Almost all Americans support abortion in the case of maternal emergency, but fewer than half if it is simply a matter of the mother’s preference.


That profoundly important split has remained in place for over three decades, but Fiorina misses that it affects how people vote. In 2000 and again in 2004, 70 percent of those who thought abortion should always be legal voted for Al Gore or John Kerry, while over 70 percent of those who thought it should always be illegal voted for George Bush.

These divisions are fundamental, deep and long lasting. I’ll take a look at judicial activism, entitlement spending (socialism) and secularization in a future post. My opinion is that it is not possible for both political parties to exist over the long term with such chasms between us.


12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,
They've actually done some studies on political differences using funcitonal MRI and this is what they came up with...
http://news.emory.edu/Releases/PoliticalBrain1138113163.html
and
http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/cat_brain_addiction.html
Bottom line, it's how people think the government should relate to society is what is at issue here. If you believe people like George Lakoff, the nation is like a family, and conservatives are inclined towards the "strict father" metaphor, and for conservatives it's the "nuturant parent" model. Especially after 9/11, it's understandable that conservative people desire the "strict father" who's going to go out and kick some terrorist ass, and of course there's of course loony-left examples of overreach (ie.Michael Moore).As you can see from the fMRI studies though, once you've drwan the line and become partisan, the ability to really look at the issues rationally goes out the door. I think we all need to agree that we have honest differences (and that's why I think it's good that your blog is open to different ideas), but too often it devolves into simple name-calling and thinking the other side is evil.
Andy

5:22 PM  
Blogger GoldenBear said...

When it comes to the divide on positions on the Iraq War I often wonder if Democrats are actually opposed to fighting Al Qaeda insurgents in their own part of the world, or if their opposition stems from simple contempt for the President. I have always tried to avoid judging people by if they have an "R" or a "D" next to their name, and rather listen to the ideas or argument that person is making.

However, when dealing with the Middle East (possibly the most volatile region in the world) our Armed Forces' effort to bring Democratic institutions to Iraq was and is the right decision.

I'm not saying the President was given, or relayed, perfect information for justifying our presence in Iraq. However, the soldiers who gave their lives, and the soldiers still on the ground, gave and are giving Iraqis a glimpse of a society free of violence.

Over time, I hope, that Iraqis will grow to the opinion like the Mayor of Tall ‘Afar who spoke specifically to the efforts of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment - "God bless this brave regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. To the families of those who have given their holy blood for our land, we all bow to you in reverence and to the souls of your loved ones. Their sacrifice was not in vain. They are not dead, but alive, and their souls hovering around us every second of every minute. They will never be forgotten for giving their precious lives. They have sacrificed that which is most valuable. We see them in the smile of every child, and in every flower growing in this land. Let America, their families, and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life."

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Catholic I oppose abortion. As a citizen of the USA I still oppose it but feel that certain women will do it regardless of any laws that may apply. There should be no laws in this regard and tax payers should not foot the bill for any abortion. What can you do? Nothing, just hope that the majority of women will recognize that a life will be lost.

VIC

10:16 PM  
Blogger andyw38 said...

goldenbear, I think that the political divisions determining support for the war in Iraq are merely political. Many democrats are just using this war for political gain at the price of our troops. What both D's and R's should be talking about is the successes of the troops in Iraq and not just shaking their head when they watch the evening news. The majority of the good news never gets reported because of the more "newsworthy" reports of sporadic car bombs. With the help of great American troops, Iraq is starting to take control of their own security, having several free elections, opened new schools and hospitals, and have been given more rights than Saddam ever dreamed of giving citizens.

The United States will not be safe until we finish the job in Iraq and make it a free and democratic government. I have complete confidence in our troops to complete that mission successfully.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that a lot of conservatives point to these "letters" from US installed mayors that seem to convey the impression that Iraqis want us there. The reason the media doesn't report on these things is because if you look at the broad picture, Iraq is a complete mess right now. Just yesterday there were several suicide bombings there. When you have a a government that pays Iraqis to write "good news" why would we believe any good news coming out of Iraq? The Shia are just biding their time until we leave, and then we will leave having wasted 2000 Americans for an Iranian client state....who by the way actually are developing nuclear weapons!
Andy

7:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...you got me thinking (again) here, Bill. It does not appear that the great chasm between these two main types of thinking will ever be bridged -- never has been since the time of Christ and before. Romans 1:22 comes to mind (again)...Professing themsevles to be wise they became fools.

Dori

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, I guess you mean that conservative Republicans are on the side of God and liberals....well, we know where they're going....Hmmmmmm

11:38 AM  
Blogger Lola said...

"These divisions are fundamental, deep and long lasting" - I agree with you that there is a huge divide in our country. But, supporting our troops should not be a political issue. Now, the democrats will say they are "supporting the troops" by opposing the war but if they really talked to the troops who are serving they will tell you different. A poll done by Military Times (at the end of last year) shows that a majority of all troops (veterans included) support the war in Iraq, President Bush's handling of Iraq and an overwhelming majority believe they will succeed in their mission to bring democracy to the middle East. So, I ask, how are they supporting the troops by condemning what they believe in?

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,

I agree. The chasm will not last forever. How many Brits after WWII said, "I still think Neville Chamberlain was right?"

The same dip in popularity awaits Al Gore.

Greg

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the chasm may close, but history could view the Iraq adventure more like our efforts in Vietnam and less like WWII resistance to Hitler......

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surprised to read that you don't think our two-party system will survive with the political gaps between them. I see it completly different. That's the strength of our system, the gun-toting redneck capitalists on one side, and the pacifist tofu eating socialists on the other (that was quite a string of adjectives you gave on the differences, I can't remember them all). My characterization of the difference between the parties is more simple: The Democrats can't keep it in their pants, and the Republicans can't keep it out of their wallets. But it works! It works better than any other system that has tried to manage a free pluralistic society! Our young men (and I was one once) do, and should, risk their life to preserve it against all enemies.

Pete

5:17 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Pete,
I do think that the 2-party system will survive because the Democrats will splinter into (A) centrists who are tough on defence and (B) leftists who want to join a whole world government. The B part will become like the Greens (marginal) while the A part will attract some Independents and become viable. That scenario is my hope, but by no means a surety. Meanwhile the Dems have no chance at the presidency. Write it down.

Bill

2:44 PM  

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