Two cheers for "polarization"

The anti-polarizers’ fallacy is that progress is always achieved in the center. Sometimes that’s true (e.g., the 1983 Social Security fix). But equally often progress comes when one side convinces voters and defeats the other side. Sweeping Democratic victories in 1932 produced the New Deal. A lopsided Dem majority (plus reaction to the JFK assisination) gave us civil rights laws, Medicare, and the Great Society. None of those were compromises. They made some people really angry!…

Over the decades, our government cycles through different partisan arrangements–GOPS win the White House but not the Congress (1988). The reverse happens (Dems win the White House, but lose the legislature–1994.) Dems win it all (1964). GOPs win it all (1980). The cycling may be healthy, if during the periods of split control we achieve the reforms compromise can achieve,*** while during the periods of one party control we achieve the reforms each party’s dominance can achieve. It’s not clear that we’re not in one of the latter periods today.

Polarization, in this model, isn’t the byproduct of a fight over “allocating loss.” Instead, polarization is useful, in an almost evolutionary sense, because it can help resolve unresolved issues like incomplete health care coverage, or illegal immigration.**** Both are pressing problems. They need to be solved. Until they’re solved, elections will continue to be about them, at least in part. But they’re not going to get solved in the center. (Sorry, Fareed!) They’re much more likely to get solved–or at least resolved–when one side in a polarized contest wins, brutally defeating both its polarized opposition and the champions of mindless bipartisanship.