Friday, April 26, 2013

Reason #286: Madmen

I believe I've touched on this before, but Wonkblog recently commemorated the launch of the latest season of Mad Men by pointing out how much worse Congressional politics was in the sixties. It's taken for granted these days that the country is polarized to the point of retardation, but what the piece contends is that the American people, as a whole, are getting along better than they have in living memory--it's only their representatives that hate each other.

Back in the sixties, the two parties were much closer together politically, as the graph above shows. But that's because the huge social rifts that were opened up by the Civil Rights movement, women's liberation, and the like had yet to embed themselves in the two-party system. In other words, there were racists and hippies on both sides, and compromise was reached, largely, by trying to appease both of them rather than one or the other; which is how you end up with concepts like "separate but equal".

Two generations or so later, most of the conservatives have been sifted into the Republican Party and most of the liberals into the Democratic Party--but the proportions thereof haven't changed all that much, except, of course, for the softening of a lot of the bigotry. In fact, you could be particularly cynical and say that polarization is reflective of increased efficiency, in that the whole point of political parties is to unite people with common beliefs into discrete voting entities.

The problem going forward is the parties becoming so discrete that they can't overlap even a tiny bit and nothing gets done--but that's only a problem in a two-party system. My hope, and the increasing divide between establishment and radical conservatives seems to suggest this, is that today's polarization could lead to the two parties finally fracturing into several smaller ones. That would mean that no one party could hold sway over the entire government, and legislation would become a process of genuine coalition-building like it is in many other countries.

Further Reading

‘Mad Men’ should make you feel better about politics today

VoteView - Political Polarization

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