Recent liberal laments about the increasing "polarization" of American political life are as predictable as the seasons. But pleas for centrism ring pretty hollow in light of recent history.
The Washington Post editorial board, after noting Sen. Robert Bennett's loss in Utah and Sen. Blanche Lincoln's primary challenge, asked: "Is there a way to push back against the movement toward partisanship and paralysis -- to carve out some space for those who strive to work across party lines in the national interest? We can think of no more important question ... "
Really? How about the question as to whether the trajectory of government spending will drag the United States into insolvency? How about the problem of a governing class unmoored from the Constitution?
Following up on the Post's invitation to fret, William Galston and Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution propound that "Washington's schism" is mostly a Republican problem. "What The Post's editorial missed is that these developments have not produced two mirror-image political parties. We have, instead, asymmetrical polarization."
Sounds contagious. What is it? "Put simply: More than 70 percent of Republicans in the electorate describe themselves as conservative or very conservative, while only 40 percent of rank-and-file Democrats call themselves liberal or very liberal."
Two possible reasons for this spring to mind. 1) Many liberals, like some of those at the Washington Post, don't think of themselves as liberals. They imagine that they occupy the sensible center whereas you, well, you are an extremist. 2) Even acknowledging that self-labeling can be problematic, there are nearly twice as many self-identified conservatives (40 percent according to a 2009 Gallup survey) as liberals (21 percent) in the U.S.
The Post regrets that this polarized electorate prevents "anything from getting done," which is an odd complaint in a year that has witnessed an $800 billion stimulus bill, the federal acquisition of General Motors and AIG, a more than $1 trillion health bill, the multibillion-dollar mortgage bailout, and the nation's deliverance from the curse of salty food.