This attitude reminds me of "The Simpsons" episode in which Montgomery Burns' political aspirations are dashed when Lisa Simpson exposes his past as an environmental criminal. "Ironic, isn't it Smithers?" Burns says. "This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you."
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.
Unity is not only overrated, it's often undemocratic. Decrying the "polarization" may be something decent people are supposed to do, like recycling or paying more for organic breakfast cereal that tastes like kitty 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 on board 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 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.
The 2008 election is going to be a horror show of name-calling, cheap shots and spittle-flecked outrage. Some of the vitriol will be unfair and beyond the pale, and that's to be condemned. But democracy is about disagreement, and you can't have the former without the latter. So maybe we should stop griping and try to enjoy the ride.