Monday, September 20, 2004

The Great Divide Is a Great Thing

The Austin American Statesman, that great proponent of civic morality, has been running an occasional series called "The Great Divide." It's about the supposed polarization of American politics and American society. A sample from today's installment (registration required, not worth the trouble):
In stories published this year, the Statesman has reported that since the late 1970s, Democrats and Republicans have been segregating, as people sift themselves into more politically homogeneous communities.

"We keep all the shrimp away from all the mussels," Republican strategist Bill Greener says of the nature of American politics. "We keep all the mussels away from the oysters. And we keep all the oysters away from all the lobsters."

By 2000, about half of the nation's voters lived in counties where one party or another won the presidential election by 20 percentage points or more. Churches have become among the country's most politically homogeneous institutions. And Congress has grown more partisan and uncompromising than at any time since World War II.

People are less likely to live and vote among those with different political leanings, and the nation's politics have grown bitter as a result. "Things get ugly when you have this kind of divergence," California Institute of Technology political scientist Jonathan Katz says. "Each side thinks the other is wrong."
Of course "each side thinks the other is wrong," as the idiot from CalTech so pompously observes. (He probably analyzed a lot of data for a lot of years to figure that out.) It's always been that way and always will be that way. That's why the nation's politics are so "ugly" and "bitter". Actually they're no more ugly and bitter than they've ever been, we're just more aware of the ugliness and bitterness because (1) there are more screaming heads on TV and the internet than there used to be and (2) Democrats no longer rule the roost as they used to, which has caused them to scream louder than ever.

All this business with screaming heads just confirms one fact of life: Face-to-face political argument seldom ever changes a person's mind, it usually hardens it.

So why should people with opposing views live near each other if they're going to wind up fighting about politics? How many family dinners have been ruined by Uncle Joe called his nephew Fred a pinko, commie, hippie freeloader or a right-wing, fascist, capitalist exploiter of the working classes? Now, if you don't like your family's politics you move to where your family ain't -- and to where your can enjoy a peaceful meal with like-minded friends, chuckling over the idiocy of John Kerry or George Bush, as you prefer, without an Uncle Joe to spoil the fun.