Overton: Growing partisanship hurts everyone

BY JON OVERTON | JUNE 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Since at least the 1990s, Republican and Democratic politicians have become increasingly polarized. Moderates are a rare breed nowadays, but now even ordinary people who identify as Democrats or Republicans have followed suit.

A new report from the Pew Research Center shows the share of Americans who hold consistently liberal or conservative views has more than doubled from 10 percent of the public in 1994 to 21 percent today. Furthermore, the share of party members who viewed their opponents “very unfavorably” more than doubled over the past 20 years.

Although polarization is growing among the general public, the share of Americans who are consistently liberal or conservative remain in the minority. Most people in the United States are still somewhat moderate. But the most radical among us are growing and are the most politically vociferous, drowning out everyone who isn’t a gung-ho ideologue.

But extremism isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it presents an opportunity to challenge problematic policies that moderates have allowed to fester for years.

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, although at complete opposite ends of the spectrum on almost every issue, nevertheless agree on a few huge topics, such as foreign policy, civil liberties, mass incarceration, and drug policy.

Both ends of the political spectrum aren’t especially happy that the NSA has collected the mobile phone records of Verizon customers, snagged our personal information from the likes of Google, Apple, Facebook, and other tech giants, and is compiling a massive database of our faces using photos it intercepts in its surveillance operations.

And yes, it’s possible for these politicians to work together. We saw it in 2011 when Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced a bill to Congress that would have legalized pot.

It happened again in 2013, when congressional antiwar progressives and tea partiers created a coalition against authorizing military intervention in Syria.

Also, for the past few years, Ralph Nader, a former candidate for the U.S. presidency, has pushed for a progressive-libertarian alliance, alongside Ron Paul.

We need the far right and far left to work together because, frankly, the tyranny of the moderates has trampled on our freedoms; it has exploited our fear of crime to bring us such fiascos as the war on drugs, and it has led us overseas on damn-fool idealistic crusades to bring freedom to the honest, simple, hardworking indigenous peoples of … wherever we feel like at the time. 

Obviously, there are some detractors from this notion of an alliance. Critics at Salon and Think Progress have argued that the divide on ideology and values between progressives and libertarians is just too wide on so many other fundamental issues for the two sides to get along.

It’s a big hurdle to overcome. As the Pew study shows, antagonism between Republicans and Democrats is growing, but the alternative to an alliance is continuing to bash our heads against the wall, arguing about on the same tired issues.

If we agree that the United States should be less militarily aggressive, that the government has infringed on our personal freedoms, and that we need to legalize pot once and for all, then let’s work on that. We don’t have to agree on everything to accomplish our mutual goals.

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