I love American politics and I generally think people who talk about consensus and bipartisanship are missing the boat. The job of politicians is to give voters clear choices.
If those choices are more and more ideologically distinct — as they certainly are — then at least people going to the polls have a sharp sense for the thinking and policies they’ll be getting when they mark their ballots.
But one area where the polarization of our society troubles me is the increasingly partisan tone of organizations that used to provide an equally important sense of community.
Groups like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Roman Catholic Church, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Episcopal church, and the Girl Scouts have all waded deep into the waters of our culture war.
It’s hard to recall those days, not so long ago, when the NRA was a mainstream sportsman’s group, advocating a common sense gun rights agenda — not defined by Ted Nugent’s “cut their heads off” brand of paranoia.
Meanwhile, a lot of rank-and-file Episcopalians are weary of their church’s new role as a pioneer for LGBT rights, a move that has created a deep schism in the pews.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of all this is the increasing polarization of the US Supreme Court, ostensibly a place where the rule of law and precedent serve as a backstop against rampant partisanship.
These days, however, the justices are increasingly outspoken, and politically active, with ideological and financial ties to the very activist groups and institutions that drive a lot of the nation’s debates.
More and more, the Supreme Court appears to serve as a sort of mini-Congress, where Democrats and Republicans vote against one another reflexively and the big decisions are often settled on a 5-to-4 split that reflects rather than moderates our culture war.
I recognize, of course, that on one level this is all perfectly proper and healthy. We want as many groups and factions and organizations as possible to shape the direction of our politics.
I’m not suggesting that anyone be silenced.
But some of these organizations were once places where Americans from across the political spectrum would gather, without having to ponder the red state-blue state divide.
You could have parents in a Girl Scout troop with wildly different political views, sportsmen who were members of the NRA with nuanced opinions about gun rights, or businessmen in the Chamber who had no interest in throttling Obamacare.
I wonder if the loss of that common ground might, in the long run, haunt us more than the polarization of our elected politicians.
So what have you seen? Have organizations that you belong to become more political, more partisan? Or less political? As always, your views welcome.