Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Political Parties are Polarizing

From The Huffington Post comes a review of Sean Theriault’s Party Polarization in Congress. We’re certainly not post-partisan yet. As Julian Zelizer explains in his Book Corner, there are “two traditional views of polarization”:

‘The first view might be described as the “throw the bums out” prescription. This is the most satisfying for many voters because it provides a concrete solution to the problem. Once we change the cast of characters, the argument goes, the new arrivals will change the way things work in Washington. However, the historical record does not tend to endorse this view. The problem is that the new boss usually looks like the old boss. The trend since the 1970s has been that polarization has steadily grown more intense regardless of which party or which person maintained control of power.

‘The second view might be called the “Charles Sumner/Preston Brooks” theory. Here, I refer to the story told in every Civil War class about the famous moment in 1856 when one member of Congress, Preston Brooks of South Carolina, beat another, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, into a bloody pulp on the floor of Congress due to their differences over slavery. According to this theory, polarization is always how Washington works. It is a pipe dream to think that anything can be different.’

Zelizer follows Theriault’s conclusion that each party is simply moving away from the center, agreeing less and less on issues that mean a lot to people. Give it a generation, I say, when debates start to resemble Friedman’s scenarios in Future Imperfect, and society more or less acquiesces to many of the flashpoints of today.

See the full review here >>

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