Tuesday, March 13, 2007

GREAT PIECE by Jonah Goldberg arguing that political unity is overrated and often undemocratic.
Indeed, since at least the election of Ronald Reagan, the left and the right have grown ever more snappish with each other. Each feels entitled to take the wheel without suffering any backseat driving. Each side feels the other is illegitimate in some way, which somehow justifies their nastiness. That can be a shame, but really, it's not the end of the world.

We've seen worse. For example, in his 2004 book, "The Two Americas," Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg proclaimed: "Our nation's political landscape is now divided more deeply and more evenly than perhaps ever before."

This might strike some — say, anyone who's seen the scene in "Gone with the Wind," in which all those Civil War dead and wounded are laid out like cordwood — as a bit of an exaggeration. Call me crazy, but such bloodshed seems like a deeper sign of division than a bunch of partisan bloggers sweatily pounding their keyboards, or liberals and conservatives watching different cable news networks.

Denouncing partisanship doesn't make anyone pure of heart. Uniters can be motivated by selfishness just as dividers can be on the side of the angels. Have you noticed how the people most concerned about political polarization tend to be politicians in power? Arnold Schwarzenegger has refashioned himself as a "post-partisan" governor in the hopes of bridging the supposedly terrible divisions in California. Maybe the guy who called Democrats "girlie men" in 2004 really has had a change of heart. Or maybe it dawned on him that partisanship, although really useful for getting elected, is a handicap when it's time to govern or burnish your record.

[...] Many of our greatest heroes were men and women who were willing to rock the boat. If consensus is such a high political value, then the abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights marchers are all villains.

Indeed, unity is overrated and often undemocratic. Decrying the "culture war" and "polarization" is something decent people are supposed to do, like recycling or paying more for organic breakfast cereal that tastes like cat litter. But the alternative is no great shakes.

Hillary Clinton leads an all-star cast of politicians who wax poetic on their desire to get beyond politics, move past partisan labels or put ideology aside. When you hear that rhetoric, consider this as a translation: "Those who disagree with me should shut up and get onboard the progress train."

I have never witnessed anyone who said that we need to get beyond ideology actually abandon his own position for the sake of unity.

For example, Al Gore constantly says the time for debating global warming is over and the time for unified action is now. But he says that because he wants the other side to stop being such a pain in his neck by disagreeing with him. Gore critics and fans alike can agree that he would be an idiot and an intellectual coward if, valuing unity over substance, he switched sides. Similarly, activists on both sides of the Iraq war may think that unity's nifty, but few seem willing to embrace the opposition's view to achieve it.