Thursday, November 08, 2012

Polarization?

The mainstream media have bought into the meme that our current state of polarization is equally the fault of both sides. Certainly, if one listens to the current mix of commentators or reads the blogs, one could agree. However, this ignores how we got here. The truth is that the modern tactics of personal destruction and wholesale misdirection were formulated and perfected by conservatives, some of them working in well-funded think tanks and employing sophisticated linguistic and psychological analysis. This happened to correspond to a period when the Democrats unilaterally disarmed. Ironically, in the long run that may have helped the Democrats more than it did the Republicans.

One of Bill Clinton's major achievements was to marginalize and even excise from the Democratic party its worst and most vitriolic elements. In doing so he helped make it a more serious party, and also saved it from extinction. One of the reasons Republicans hated Clinton so much is that they were afraid of exactly that.  The Republicans have gone through no such reformation, and the media do us a disservice in not pointing out the difference. Yes, there is now an emerging cadre of liberal commentators who have adopted similar methods of ridicule and ad-hominem destruction, but they are not the drivers of the liberal polity, and they are comparative amateurs at the art.  And they are largely reactionary.

Perversely, even while ratcheting up the viciousness of their attacks, conservatives have adopted all the language of aggrieved, persecuted minorities. This in spite of the fact that they still largely represent those who have the biggest bite of the apple. They scream about "dictatorship" and call their listeners to stock up on guns.  The question is:  what did everyone else do to merit such loathing?

As far as I can tell, all that the most hated groups (blacks, latinos, feminists, gays) did was ask to be invited to the dance. Civil rights was about black people wanting membership in our society. Feminism was about women wanting admission to the club. Gay rights are about gay people wanting simply to be treated as human beings. Yet they are slandered as "takers", "feminazis", and worse, and those who stand with them are attacked as anti-American traitors and terrorists. 

Yes, liberals can be vicious and condescending. But it has always been from a position of weakness, from the standpoint of someone who just wants to stand on level ground, NOT from the standpoint of someone who wants to put others down. With the exception of a few, marginal aberrations (eg., the Black Panthers), organizations associated with the cause of inclusion have not advocated the destruction of the ruling class.  They have simply asked to be included in the discussion.  Have their methods been the right ones? Often not. Multiculturalism courses; ethnic-studies; the insistence that boys and girls are the same until we corrupt them; public funding of "grief counselors"; self-esteem training--all of this has been rightly called out by conservatives as so much rubbish. But all of these things were part of a broader mission, which is to help groups that were excluded find a footing as equals in our society. Never has it been the policy of liberals to tell other groups to go back where they came from, or worse, to drop dead.

The Democratic party has major failings. It has never been close to incorporating fiscal discipline into its world view. Conservative rants that liberals just want to be "Santa Claus" have a grain of truth. But that is not a failing that comes even close to the moral depravity it takes to defend racial, gender and religious hatred. Conservatives have learned to cloth that hatred in phrases like "personal responsibility" and "family values", but the fact is that their policy positions have too often amounted to defending violence against groups that don't look or think like them.

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