Loud, rancorous debate is nonetheless debate, and all the evidence suggests that it entices the previously unengaged into the political fray. In Wisconsin, for example, the ferocity of debate actually produced a more informed and committed electorate. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, turnout for the recall was “off the charts by historical standards.” The deeply contentious 2008 presidential election produced the largest voter turnout in American history. In other words, partisanship achieved what public service campaigns never could: It made Americans give a damn about their political future.
Yes, in times of political tumult, American voters polarize, lining up behind their parties as “yea” and “nay” votes on opposed and irreconcilable ideas about health care policy or deficit reduction or national security. The only way to “heal the partisan divide,” then, is to prevent politicians from taking any remotely controversial positions in the first place. Which is as impossible as it is undesirable.
Because politics is not — despite all clichés to the contrary — about compromise. It’s about making the other guy compromise. And, failing that, it’s about telling any and all who will listen that the country is being torn asunder by boneheaded partisans.