Bruce Bartlett: America's Return to Political Polarization





Bruce Bartlett is a columnist and blogger for The Fiscal Times.

The most talked-about article in Washington this week is the one by political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein blaming political polarization and gridlock on the Republican Party. They say that its breech of longstanding norms of political competition, especially routine use of the filibuster in the Senate, has gone over the line. Mann and Ornstein blame the extreme rightward tilt of the GOP for its destructive behavior.

The political scientist Jonathan Bernstein agrees that the Republicans have moved well to the right and have become more radical in pursuit of their agenda. But he argues that these are two different phenomena that are not necessarily related. Bernstein thinks the GOP has simply become dysfunctional. He points to the purging of conservatives such as Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana merely for being insufficiently aggressive in attacking Democrats.

The roots of political polarization go back to before the Civil War. The slaveholding society of the old South necessarily imposed upon it a very conservative view of the world, which impacts public policy to the present day.

One way in which this conservatism exhibited itself and still does is that Southerners tend to be very religious in an evangelical Christian way. The reason for this is that when slavery came under attack by Northern abolitionists, Southerners found comfort in the Bible. In it there are many passages that defend slavery and treat it as a normal part of life (e.g., Exodus 20: 20-21; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3: 22)....



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