Polarizing Politics

The strangest thing happened to me a few years ago when I moved to (town). My politics were changed. The strange part was that I didn’t change them. I believed the same things I believed when I lived 200 miles north of here, in Montana. No, I discovered that the same beliefs that, in (town), Montana, were held by right-of-center thinkers, were here held by left-of center thinkers. It was a shock, let me tell you.

Over the years, I’ve started to think of (town) as home, to miss it when I’m gone, and appreciate the people I’ve come to know here. I love the zoo and the greenbelt, and I’ve found some local shops to patronize. But as much as I feel at home here, I still cannot get used to the change in my politics.

Perhaps the change that I experienced in moving to (town) was merely an early harbinger of what has happened to the Republican party on a national basis. Positions that, a few years ago, were quite common in the party are now no longer welcome in it.

I am not the first to write of the polarization of the political parties in this country, and I won’t be the last. But, and this is for both parties, the further politics are driven to the extreme, and the more middle-of-the-road people are driven out of the parties, the more government will be paralyzed.

This can be seen already in California, where the voting districts are gerrymandered to return only the selected party each election. The real election takes place in the primaries, where the candidates cater to the party faithful and the most extreme candidate wins. By the time they reach the legislature, the elected ones have persuaded themselves that they can never compromise in any way with the opposition. With every legislator thinking this way, and an almost evenly-divided legislature, the result is gridlock.

I expect you’re thinking that gridlock of this sort is highly unlikely in Idaho, where one party prevails to the almost total exclusion of the other. But there is another danger to be found in extreme politics. The more one party is excluded, the higher the danger of government ceasing to be the expression of the will of the people (or at least a majority of them) and becoming the expression of radicals. This can already be seen, in embryonic stages, here. The refusal to consider raising taxes, or even really going after tax cheats, and instead drastically cutting the budget, is an early symptom.

Please ask yourself, what is the logical result of cutting government? Where does it stop? Do we need schools? Prisons? Roads? Maybe we don’t.

This column was first published in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on May 25, 2010.

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