Left v. Right...Is There an Alternative?

I have been saying for a long time now on this page (and I am hardly alone in making this assertion) that polarization, seemingly the new normal in U.S. politics is what it fueling many of the problems facing the nation today. When people blindly follow a letter, whether it be D or R, and feel compelled to support every leg of that party's platform, it leaves very little room for reasoned discussion on issues. Candidates who veer from the party line are excoriated in the media outlets that back that party, the people don't vote for them and ideas aren't allowed to germinate, making this polarization a self-perpetuating cycle.

A lot of the evidence underpinning my belief that polarization was on the rise has been anecdotal. However the Pew Research Center has recently attempted to flesh out this concept out using nearly three decades worth of survey data. Its conclusion?

Americans’ values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Party has now become the single largest fissure in American society, with the values gap between Republicans and Democrats greater than gender, age, race or class divides. The parties also have become smaller and more ideologically homogeneous over this period. Republicans are dominated by conservatives, while a smaller but growing number of Democrats are liberals.

The survey finds that neither party is solely responsible for the growing partisan gap. In different ways, both Democratic and Republican values have become more partisan over the past 25 years — and polarization extends to independents as well.

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to solving the polarization problem (if it is indeed a problem; perhaps many Americans are happy with this state of affairs) one solution would be to end the major parties' grip on the voting system. While such a strategy wouldn't be easy considering it would mean that those in power would have to cede some of it, as well as the fact that the media has an interest in the current state of affairs, there would be many benefits. Some current Republicans probably have a much stronger attachment to pure Tea Party ideals than those of the religious right. Some Democrats might be happier in a labor, or socialist, or green party than under their current affiliations. Libertarians might get a little more attention.

Over time, there would of course be coalitions built and destroyed, and on some issues, splits might look a lot like they do now. However, it would be a lot easier to come to consensus as different voting blocks came to understandings and revived the art of dealmaking. The Tea Partiers might join with Republicans on budget matters, but with Libertarians and Democrats on gay marriage. Erstwhile Republicans under a Libertarian banner might go toe to toe with old allies over the war on drugs, or defence spending. The list could go on and on, and I am sure readers could come up with many, many more examples. At the very least it would be much more interesting than discussing whether one or two senators will defect every time a vote is expected to come out on party lines.

Is such a scenario likely? Not in the near future. However, those Americans concerned about the partisan divide ripping the nation apart, no matter what their political affiliation, should be able to get behind a system like that described above. It could take time, but that isn't to say that it would be impossible to accomplish. I hope that someday it is more than a pipe dream, because the America of the Pew survey above is one that seems destined to follow the path of the formerly great nations which preceded it.

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