The Monkey Cage was an awesome group blog. It brought serious political science research into the mainstream. It was all good.
And then it became part of the Washington Post.
Which gets us to an odd series of posts that attempts to convince the reader that American political polarization ain’t so bad. We can start with a post entitled “Gridlock is bad. The alternative is worse,” by Morris Fiorina of Stanford. Great scholar, great work ... but the argument is strange.
First, it assumes that the political parties would behave as they currently do under a more parliamentary-like electoral system. That makes no sense. One overreach followed by electoral disaster and that would be the end of that.
Second, to make his case that the parties left unfettered would do crazy things he writes, “The 2012 Republican platform plank stated essentially: never, no exceptions. The Democratic platform plank stated the opposite: any time, for any reason.”
Hmm. The GOP platform wrote:
- We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage (page 14);
- Prohibit the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion;
- Criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion;
- Ban sex-selective abortions;
- Protect from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain;
- We urge enactment of pending legislation that would require parental consent to transport girls
across state lines for abortions (page 34);
- We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception (page 36).
Not a platform that I would support! And I would agree that point (5) effectively bans all abortions. But I would, no? Read objectively, this is to the right of median public opinion, but it is not off the charts. Of course I believe that it’s folderol, given the enthusiastic anti-abortion and anti-contraception actions of GOP-controlled state legislatures. But it sure is a sign that the national party understands the dangers of getting too far out in front of public opinion.
And the Democrats? Even less:
- The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay;
- President Obama overturned the “global gag rule,” a ban on federal funds to foreign family planning organizations that provided information about, counseling on, or offered abortions;
And that’s all she wrote.
So where does Fiorina’s characterization of the party platforms come from? You got me. He is a great scholar with a great book on polarization. But this was not written as a serious post. It has a slatepitchy feel: let’s devil’s advocate against the conventional wisdom. That has a place, I have been known to do it myself ... but it belongs not on the Monkey Cage that I used to love.
A worse post is Rob Ford’s “In America, polarization is a problem. In Britain, it could be a solution.” (This is the Rob Ford of the University of Manchester, not the other guy.) I have much to say about this, but I would rather make a public call for Alex Harrowell to come over here and fisk it for us. I will say simply that even if Ford is correct (Alex, we need you!), then I am not convinced that you have a problem if the only by-products are falling voter turnout and the rise of a rather silly buy aggressively anti-racist bunch of twits.
Now, as befits that great nation, the Canadian entry into the series is sober and serious. Richard Johnson of UBC limits himself to pointing out something that non-Canadians may not have realized: Canadian parties have become more polarized, whereas Canadian voters have not. That is the Monkey Cage I used to love: rigorously confirming the conventional wisdom (as AFAIK the above is the conventional wisdom in Canada) is a worthwhile initiative, Canadian or otherwise.
Anyway, earlier posts in the series are not slatepitchy, and some in fact argue against the American and British arguments mentioned above. And I do not want anyone to take this as a criticism of Fiorina or Ford. Like I said, I have done the same thing. And many counterintuitive pitches are indeed correct. But these two are odd.