Because we're at the start of the electoral roller coaster, the part where the car slowly chugs upward, building anticipation for the gut-wrenching plunges and loop-the-loops ahead, I'd like to hand out a little political Dramamine.
It has become a central ritual of our times for Beltway priests like the Washington Post's David Broder to lament the coarseness, acidity and all-around ickiness of our polarized political culture. They're not absolutely wrong. All I need to do to appreciate the toxicity of the political culture is check my e-mail each morning.
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, and somehow that 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 "Gone with the Wind" scene 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.
Also, 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 useful for getting elected, is a handicap when it's time to govern or burnish your record.
Or consider the incumbent-protection racket we call campaign finance reform. Sitting senators and other politicians think it's sacrilegious for their super-duperness to be questioned by anyone, let alone a group so base and low as politically engaged citizens. So they create laws that make it hard for challengers and critics to get heard. Negative and anonymous third-party ads are banned near elections in the name of promoting "civility."
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