Week #10 Discussion Leadership:
The polarization paradox: Why hyperpartisanship strengthens conservatism and undermines liberalism
Brief summary of article: In this well-written article by Matthew Nisbet and Dietram Scheufele, they cover the growing issue of increasing partisanship in American politics. In their opinion, the current landscape favors conservatives, who are “delighted by dysfunction” and are pressuring liberals to respond. This piece describes the recent liberal response and lays out a recommendation for what the Left’s response should really look like; one of compromise and moderation rather than rigidity and outrage.
1. The author believes that the current landscape creates a “spiral of political disengagement and demobilization” among moderates, young voters and minorities. As young voters, are you personally turned off or driven away because of hyperpartisanship?
2. We are all well-educated and most likely have political opinions; like the author points out, do you find it hard to self-reflect at times and consider the “other side” of an issue?
3. A president who could encapsulate a range of ideas used to be cherished, such as Bill Clinton with his moderatism. Yet the Democracy Alliance wanted to distance themselves from his centrist politics because they were “too accommodating” and did not “articulate a clear progressive vision for the country”. Why do you think this is happening?
4. How much is the media to blame for this deepening divide, as well as for driving moderates away from such increasingly harsh partisan politics?
5. According to the article, liberal mega-donors “sought to bypass the traditional party apparatus in an effort to bring their own voices to bear on election outcomes and the ideological message of the Democratic Party”. Should these outside groups and super PACs be regulated? Do “mega-donors” hold too much influence?
6. President Obama distanced himself from the partisan strategies of Democratic donor groups and won an election. Isn’t this proof that compromise and moderatism is the key to success? If so, why do you think the divide continues to deepen?
7. In 2011 “it became clear that the creation of a liberal message machine to match the Rights had not heralded the dawn of a new age of progressive policies and governance. Instead, the machine had contributed to trench warfare.” Was this not inevitable? With staunch Right counterparts, what else but a messy divide was to be expected?
8. What do you think about the author’s suggestions to limit “message machines” and reverse polarization? Some include a reformed primary system, online voting, rebuilding civic infrastructure, digital media literacy training, and more diverse intellectual institutions.
Conclusion: I understand the author’s point of view that polarization has created a feeling of negativity towards Washington, and indirectly Liberals as a whole. But in reality, nobody wins, as shown during the recent government shutdown. Point of views will differ over who bears the largest burden between Liberals and conservatives, but this article does a good job in thoroughly covering a relevant and impactful issue with American politics. I think most would agree with the author is his conviction that a better approach would include “reforming civic and political institutions in ways that create some possibility for moderation, deliberation and crosscutting discourse.