Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It will take Religion to end political polarization

Liberals always like to mourn the Republicans of yesteryear: the ones that could work with Democrats to solve problems.  Liberals just hate all the extremism and hate on the right.

But William A. Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal that the polarization works both ways. Using data from a study by Alan Abramowitz from Emory University he shows that Democrats have been getting more socially liberal, and Republicans more economically conservative.  And more and more people are voting on strict party lines.
Democratic support for Cold War anticommunism waned in reaction to the Vietnam War. Republican support for Keynesian economics had given way to the supply-side revolution... All these shifts pointed in the same direction, toward increased unity within each political party and more-intense divisions between them. Today, ideology, policy preferences, partisanship and voting behavior are aligned as never before.
Or you can so it by the numbers.
In 1972, for example, 29% of Democrats called themselves liberal or very liberal, a figure that rose by 18 points to 47% by 2012. During those four decades, the share of Republicans regarding themselves as conservative or very conservative rose by fully 30 points, to 76% from 46%. 
What's the way out?
The U.S. government has become dysfunctional, and there is a shared responsibility to fix it. Leaders must behave differently, which will not happen unless the people insist on a different kind of governance. We can light a candle or curse the darkness.
But that is silly.  The government has become dysfunctional because the people are divided.  They send their representatives to Washington to make a difference: liberals send their representatives to advance gay marriage and abortion and save the planet from carbon pollution; conservatives send their representatives to reform the welfare state and hold the line on the liberal social agenda.

The politicians are faithfully representing their supporters, and they are taking advantage of events to advance their agenda.  That's why the Democrats ran full-speed ahead to pass Obamacare with the majorities they got from disgusted Republicans failing to show up at the polls in 2006 and 2008.  The opposite may happen in 2014 and 2016 as rank-and-file Democratic voters wonder what happened to all the Hope and Change.

What is the answer to this gridlock?  The answer is religion.  Politics is division; government is force.  The current trench warfare is going nowhere, at least until the welfare state runs out of money.

Let us recall the thesis advanced by William G. McLoughlin in Revivals, Awakenings and Reform. McLoughlin argued that, at least in America, when things are screwed up politically you get a religious awakening or revival that resets the moral landscape and ushers in an era of reform.

We can see the McLoughlin effect in the Muslim jihad movement.  The jihadists are not primarily fighting against the West.  They are fighting to found a new moral order in the Middle East.  We western democratic capitalists think they are crazy.  But the moral and political collapse in the Middle East is real, and the jihadis are trying to do something about it.

The first three Great Awakenings, the Puritan one centering in 1600, the Welseyan one centering in the 1740s and the Dwight one centering on 1800-30 were about working people, the people of the subordinate self transforming their lives and becoming people of the responsible self.  The Social Gospel Awakening at the turn of the 20th century was more of a top-down thing encouraging the workers to stay in their working class and let the "academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex" solve all their problems for them.

But in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism Robert William Fogel worried that liberals were losing the plot to a new revival of religion.  Not to worry. By the early 2000s people like John Judis and Ruy Teixeira thought that the danger was over and liberals were beginning a new era of The Emerging Democratic Majority of women, the educated, the young and the minority.

Obviously, today the whole thing is back up in the air.  And if there is going to be a revival of religion you would be starting to see something happening with young people.  Maybe there is, but I can't see it.

Put it this way: the Obama campaign touched a nerve with young people, who flocked to his promise of Hope and Change.  But when president Obama turned right around and betrayed them with the worst economic recovery ever.  There are millions of young people out there medicating themselves with the drugs of license and self absorption, waiting for something.

At some point things will change.  And then the prophecy of Ronald Reagan that you ain't seen nothin' yet will achieve new salience.

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