Posted on February 15, 2006
Pepperdine University professor John Q. Wilson has a long, but important article upon the WSJ today. In it he takes a scholarly look back through history’s lens to note that some element of political polarization has been fundamental to the country since its birth, while admitting that things today have taken a turn very much for the worse.
In part he blames a core refinement of the political parties into something approaching philosophical monoliths – especially around the hot-button issues of the culture wars. He also attributes the rise in elite polarization to the increased competitiveness of a mass media forced to target segments, rather than centers of the population, as well as an increasingly educated (and therefore politically aware) populace.
The “So what?” paragraph rings the bell for me:
Sharpened debate is arguably helpful with respect to domestic issues, but not for the management of important foreign and military matters. The United States, an unrivaled superpower with unparalleled responsibilities for protecting the peace and defeating terrorists, is now forced to discharge those duties with its own political house in disarray.
We fought World War II as a united nation, even against two enemies (Germany and Italy) that had not attacked us. We began the wars in Korea and Vietnam with some degree of unity, too, although it was eventually whittled away. By the early 1990s, when we expelled Iraq from Kuwait, we had to do so over the objections of congressional critics. In 2003 we toppled Saddam Hussein in the face of catcalls from many domestic leaders and opinion-makers. Now, in stabilizing Iraq and helping that country create a new free government, we have proceeded despite intense and mounting criticism, much of it voiced by politicians who before the war agreed that Saddam Hussein was an evil menace in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that we had to remove him.
Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve–potentially to fatal effect. What Gen. Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.
If only he had a recommendation to get the vast middle out of this mess made for us by our “betters.”
H/T to Kat for the link, by the way.