Friday, November 30, 2007

Debunking polarization

Ed Kilgore makes a valid point in discussing "down ballot" races and the perceived polarizing effect of a Hillary Clinton candidancy:

Negative as well as positive enthusiasm towards candidates is often overrated, since "bonus votes" are not rewarded for the intensity of voter preferences. And as [Tom Schaller of New Republic] notes, Obama-hatred or Edwards-hatred might well emerge on the Right if either of those men won the nomination. But the anecdotal case you often hear about Clinton is that she is polarizing in an unbalanced way: her nomination would strongly motivate conservatives who think she's a dedicated socialist and one-worlder, while discouraging progressives who think she's a warmongering corporate puppet. (You even hear the reverse argument made about Edwards, i.e., that he's usefully perceived by Republicans and independents as more "centrist" than he actually is).
Interesting as they are, such theories about HRC's effect on the electorate would have more power if there was any objective evidence for them. So far, polls testing various Democratic candidates against Republican rivals in specific states (mainly those conducted by SurveyUSA) show her doing as well as or better than Obama and Edwards in most states, and doing quite well in red and purple states. To be a "drag" on the ticket down-ballot in a lot of states, you have to actually lose them, and lose them badly. To put it most simply, it's hard to get too obsessed about the down-ballot "damage" that might be inflicted by a candidate who's currently running four points ahead of Rudy Giuliani in Kentucky.
I have no doubt that whoever gets the Democratic nomination, the Repub attack machine will slash and burn the nominee. Polarization via divisive wedge issues is what Repubs and their vast noise machine do best. In considering GOP candidates, you won't hear much about how their candidates divide America. Proof?

[Keep reading...]

A blast from the past:
I'm a uniter, not a divider.
Not much news squawk dubbed Bush as a polarizing figure when he ran for the presidency in 2000. But Al Gore? And now Hillary? A sample from our rotting press corpse courtesy Bob Somerby:
WALSH (12/14/00): Gore simply does not have the charisma, the power, the emotional reach to heal the partisan divide right now. Despite his history of bipartisanship in the Senate, he's become a hectoring, polarizing figure.
And another:
''Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don't think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is—and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton?—can bring the country together.
First off, let me opine that anyone who runs for the presidency had best have some fucking incredible ambition. Secondly, the world, IMO, will respond more favorably to a Democratic president -- anyone of the Democrats -- than a Bush clone like Rudy or Mitt. So enough with the polarization claptrap.

Eric Weiner writing for the LATimes offered a different approach to the polarization subject during the 2004 presidential campaign:
Candidates don't talk about their shared positions; they need to highlight their differences. Meanwhile, the media magnify those differences because it makes a better story. The result is the illusion of a polarized nation. After all, with the proper lens and the right light, any decent photographer can make a tiny stream look like the Mississippi.
The question is: Why does the American public so readily embrace this myth of polarization? Partly, I think, because it makes us feel good, reinforcing the sense that we are engaged in a feisty debate about issues that really matter. If we disagree so loudly, the logic goes, then surely democracy must be alive and well.
The advent of talk radio (to date mostly right wing, but that is about to change), along with cable TV shout-a-thons and high-octane websites, has fueled the myth of polarization.
I don't know that I agree with Weiner entirely because he didn't delve into who's ferociously spread the "myth of polarization" and why... at least not to the detail that I would like.

I've long disagreed with the divisiveness attributed to Hillary and previously to Al Gore and indubitably coming soon to the next Democratic presidential nominee. Hell, that's what they say and I don't cotton to hand-wringing, forked-tongue millionaire pundits and D.C. consultants who have ulterior motives to hype how polarizing he or she is. The meme has infiltrated our public discourse and culture so markedly that I've fallen under its influence upon occasion. Time to snap out of it!

So when you hear how polarizing Hillary, Edwards, Obama, Richardson et al are or will be, which in turns implicitly questions their electability, ask yourself who benefits by promoting such a proposition? Put another quarter in the rightwing Mighty Wurlitzer and you'll find out.