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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Polarization and Deliberation

In our chapter on political parties, we discuss the impact of polarization. William Galston has some thoughts on this topic. On the one hand, he says polarization may have healthy effects, such as presenting the electorate with clear choices. On the other hand, there are downsides. One involves deliberative democracy:
The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once commented that while every man is entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to his own facts. But the ideological turn in American party politics meant that all too often, each party embraced its own version of reality. It is one thing to say that the 2003 decision to initiate war in Iraq was wrong in principle, quite another to maintain that the 2007 decision to surge troops wasn’t working, long after it had become clear that it was. Ideological polarization, it turned out, meant that rather than being used to test preconceptions, facts were twisted to fit them. So the contemporary system of “responsible” parties turns out to be incompatible with deliberation, one of the requisites of a healthy democracy.
Galston also notes that polarization saps trust in government. While a certain degree of mistrust may heighten vigilance against threats to liberty, some trust is necessary. He uses a Madison quotation that we cite in chapter 2:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among us for self-government.