Tuesday, March 14, 2017


“Well, I’m a huge student of American history and I recognize this is one of those times where there’s great polarization between the two parties. And frankly the ideas for which the parties are working are really at opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of successful compromise. Hence you have the deadlock we have today.”

“Well, the fact is, you never compromise on principles. If people on the far left they have a principle to stand by, they should never compromise, those of us on the right should not either. [...] What has motivated many people to get out and work for us and we are at that point where one side or the other has to win this argument. One side or the other will dominate.”
Richard Mourdock former Treasurer of Indiana
Mr. Mourdock's comments came during an interview with Soledad O’Brien while he was running for the Indiana United States Senate seat formerly held by Republican Senator Richard Lugar, whom Mr. Mourdock had defeated in the primary, in part by casting him as too moderate and too willing to work with President Obama. I was reminded of the interview after a conversation with a politically-minded acquaintance in which I made my standard argument about the importance of not demonizing the other side when you talk to them. His response was basically, that he never intended to speak to them, only about them, and that his goal was to rally the rest of the nation against them.

And that left me with a question. Is a lasting victory for one side or the other even possible? Can either America's political Left or Right actually manage to convince enough people to follow them to create the sort of "permanent majority" that Karl Rove once envisioned without compromising their principles enough to appeal to a large swath of people who don't normally vote? (And can they do so in such a way that doesn't motivate others of that same group to join the opposition?)

There's nothing about the nature of the political universe that prevents it. So the question really becomes: If circumstances don't line up in such a way as to bring down their opposition, are the political parties willing to do what it takes, whatever that is, to secure long-lasting power for themselves? Right now, the answer seems to be "no," if only because the parties, while unified in what they don't want, and not unified enough in what they do want to be able to marshal all of their resources into a dominance project. Which may be a profound disappointment to staunch partisans on all sides, but is likely a boon for the rest of us. A political party driven by a sense that their principles are both morally right and the last line of defense again a willfully perverse opposition, if given an unassailable majority for even a short time, could restructure the political landscape to give themselves formidable structural advantages that could last decades. Republican control of redistricting in several states meant that in 2012, despite narrowly losing the overall popular vote in House of Representatives races, they were able to hold on to control of the chamber.

Richard Mourdock envisioned a world in which the American public effectively exiled one party or the other to the political wilderness, making them the opposition in name only. He saw the electorate as being given a choice and making it. It's a vision that's unlikely to play out anytime soon, given the way the public is divided and the political parties fail to effectively cross those divides. But people will continue to look for ways to end the back and forth. Something tells me we're better off if no-one ever manages it.

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