The politicization of…everything

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.


123 Comments on “The politicization of…everything”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I quit the Chamber of Commerce about a decade ago because I didn’t feel like the national organization was representing the interests of small businesses like mine. A local businessman called and talked to me for about an hour to get me to reconsider — which was nice of him, but he was old-school and he didn’t see what was happening within the national organization.

    The best part about quitting the Chamber was that after about a year I stopped getting spam faxes several times a day.

  2. Brian,
    I really do understand what you’re saying. And on one hand, I share your concern to a certain degree. At some point, we become so Balkanized, divided about EVERYTHING, that it becomes unhealthy. You can’t even advocate common sense things like, say, reducing wastefulness without it being treated as a ‘slippery slope’ link to, say, job-killing regulations to fight non-existent climate change. When *everything* is viewed through an ideological prism, it denies the fact that certain things should be seen as common to humanity or American-ness.

    But the flip side is that the facade of placidness isn’t always healthy either. Unity isn’t really unity if its pre-requisite he fundamental humanity of segments of the population. For example, gay citizens and couples just want the same rights as straight citizens and couples. Should they forfeit this perfectly reasonable and very American goal in the name of so-called ‘unity’?

    I’m reminded of the comment by Albert Camus who said, “Those who weep for the happy periods in history acknowledge what they want: not the alleviation but the silencing of misery.”

  3. “Unity isn’t really unity if its pre-requisite he fundamental humanity of segments of the population.”

    Sorry… cut and paste error. Should be:

    Unity isn’t really unity its pre-requisite is the denial of the fundamental humanity of segments of the population.

  4. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    We are getting distinct choices, almost as distinct as Round Earth vs Flat Earth. The problem is that so many of us are choosing Flat Earth.

  5. Ken Hall says:

    Mayhap if humans could content themselves with belonging to the species “homo sapiens” of the Earth and content themselves with caring for the health of all the fauna and flora upon which we and they depend for existence and forgo belonging to “organized” cliques, with which to enhance individual dominion over any and all, “the politicization of … everything” would be no more.


  6. Pete Klein says:

    Brian, your theory is good but reality is lacking.
    Clear choices are a fantasy. Any Republican or any Democrat that is 100% Republican or Democrat – whatever that is at the moment – is a mindless idiot.
    50 shades of gray is what we all are and variety is the spice of life.

  7. Larry says:

    It’s a good thing that there is diversity in American political thought; it keeps things balanced. We wouldn’t really want either group of “mindless idiots” to dominate the nation. That only encourages extremism of one sort or another.

  8. It’s a fine line. Because throughout American history, all social progress has been pushed by people who were initially denounced as extremists: abolitionists, suffragettes, Freedom Riders, feminists, gay rights activists… all this stuff, once derided as ‘extremist,’ is now considered mainstream. Do you know what our now-sainted Founding Fathers were called by loyalists?

  9. Larry says:

    I was not speaking of ideas that started out as radical political thought and gradually became centrist action. I was referring to extremist, i.e., one-party rule, with no dissent or opposition.

  10. Kathy says:

    I mentioned this in the other thread and I will say it again. Understand that I am not necessarily saying this is my view – I am interested in hearing from those who many not agree and why.

    Setting aside the ludicrous and extreme emails that make the rounds, (ie; Obama is a Muslim, not born in the US), there are some real concerns with a portion of society that our nation is heading toward socialism.

    That said, I think that this has caused a resurgence of patriotism in some of these groups mentioned. They stand for some fundamental good old American values and they are not about to stand by and watch our country leave those values for socialist ideologies.

  11. Bob S says:

    I really don’t have a problem with any group that exercises its good old American right to be partisan as long as they are up front and honest about their positions. What I really dislike are groups like the League of Women Voters which lays claim to non-partisanship but in fact never saw a left wing cause it could not embrace. I’m sure similar dishonesty can be found on the right.

  12. jeff says:

    When laws and courts are used to modify society, politics & factionalism is necessary because they are tools for action. Religions work without government but when impaired by government often resort to politics.

  13. Rachel says:

    The Girl Scouts have NOT waded into partisan politics, they have been dragged in, by right wing Christians (so-called) who have manufactured connections between GSA and Planned Parenthood. The conservative Bishops have also proclaimed that the values of GSA are not aligned with theirs and launched an “investigation” as if they have any authority over them. It’s pretty disgraceful, in my view. So, let’s be crystal clear about who dragged whom into this mess.

  14. erb says:

    “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.”

    I’m not an Episcopalian, or even a church member, but I don’t see how their choosing to recognize and ordain gay ministers can be seen as a partisan issue, or why it should make church members “weary.” Who are they partisan for?

    Likewise, the attacks on the Girl Scouts by right wing functionaries does not mean that the GS is a partisan group, only that there is an attempt to portray them as such.

    This is in stark contrast to the genuine politicization of groups like the NRA, which, as mentioned, take a specific stand on policy and political figures. Or the preachers who use the pulpit to tell their congregations how to vote.

  15. hermit thrush says:

    overall i have zero problem with polarization; maybe it’s even a good thing. however, i do have a problem with various aspects of our political system which are maladapted to a more polarized environment. our political institutions need to keep up with the times.

  16. Peter Hahn says:

    Kathy – I, personally don’t think we are headed towards socialism, unless you consider FDR’s New Deal that road to socialism. But why that segment of society is so worried?

    It seems that they need an enemy or enemy ideology. Communism is dead, so lets try socialism as bogeyman. There are more – illegal immigrants, illegal voters, welfare queens etc.

    I doubt that most of them know what socialism is.

  17. mervel says:

    I agree with Brian on this. We are becoming too political in almost everything. I also remember the days when the NRA was a gun safety/hunter organization, you got an NRA card took your classes as a part of growing up; they were a civic group that did good things. Now they are running around with machine guns, sounding more like the John Birch Society.

    But I think it is a reflection of our culture and frankly a reflection of the internet, everyone’s most partisan views suddenly get full publication in a cacophony of noise.

    We are being sold on what to think by the Left and the Right. I mean you have a conversation with someone and halfway through you realize that you are simply hearing talking points from either fox news or moveon. org. Its boring.

  18. wj says:


    America headed to socialism is just as true as America headed for Tim Hortons.

    It’s a talking point, free of substance and completely unmoored from reality.

    People who say such things are somehow seeing programs that have been in place since the 1930s are somehow different now. They’re not.

    Social Security hasn’t changed. Medicaid, Medicare and Welfare are all structurally the same as when they were first implemented.

    But, somehow, these programs constitute socialism now? It’s ridiculous.

    It’s a talking point created and issued by extremists funded by the extremely wealthy. The rich do this to lower the taxes they pay. Those taxes are used to fund the programs they now call socialism.

    For me, it comes down to a simple calculus: either you’re American and you want to see Americans and our country succeed or you’re a wealthy/extremist ideologue who doesn’t care about your country or countrymen.

    Mitt Romney and seemingly the rest of the current crop of GOP zealots have very clearly demonstrated they don’t give a damn about women, the poor or the middle class.

    Democrats are fumbling boobs who just might – completely by accident – do something that could help the middle class, and therefore the rest of the country. But they’re unlikely to do harm by dismantling the protections we’ve relied on for decades.

    There’s your choice this November: select (R) for corrupt malevolence or (D) for well-meaning incompetence and ineptitude.

    Happy voting.

  19. Peter Hahn says:

    If you look around the world, countries that are having a rough time economically get more polarized – more extremism (including the USA). It does seem that this time around with bad economies, the right wing extremists are doing much better than the left wing ones. In the great depression (as opposed to great recession), there were the Nazi’s and fascists, but the communists did pretty well too.

  20. Peter Hahn says:

    I would add that if we were really going to a socialist economy where the government runs the major industries and other businesses, then a guy like Mitt Romney would be a good choice for president.

  21. Pete Klein says:

    I like news that informs me of what is going on locally, nationally and internationally.
    I prefer news I or someone else might find useful.
    But much of what is called political news is not useful in the least.
    I couldn’t care less what recent polls say. I don’t care who likes or doesn’t like a politician or a bill.
    Editorials are junk. They are not news. Opinions are just that. You have yours and I have mine. So what?
    Wall Street should pay to have its averages posted. Otherwise it is just free advertising for gambling. Same goes for the Lotto and Horse Racing.
    I find it amusing how TV news programs are loaded with free advertising of network programs.
    Nothing that happens in Hollywood, especially about the overpaid STARS is newsworthy.
    When you get right down to it, there is actually very little newsworthy news anywhere.
    A big problem for all of the news media today is the growing number of people who are fed up with the news and have given up on following it no matter what form it takes.
    Even the economy has become a bit of a dead horse being beaten to death. Yes it would be wonderful if everyone who wanted a job, had a job. But the fact of the matter is that of 90% of Americans who want to have a job are working! In case you didn’t know. They feel about news programs the same way they fell about TV program in general. Nothing worth watching.
    Yes it is bad when you want to work and can’t find work. But this has always been true – even in the so called good times.
    I have lived long enough to know that no politician and no political party will save me from anything. They like to have people think they can but they can’t.
    Actually, both parties are better at wrecking things than they are at fixing things. And I do include such non parties as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. I’m sure they are having a good time, feeling very important, just like Grover Norquist who seems to be having a ball wandering around and playing the part of the Pied Piper.
    The politicization of…everything? Only if you want to buy into the hype the news media want you to do.

  22. To get back to the politicians and choices for the voters, it’s fine to campaign on ideology but once in office those elected should recognize, by the simple fact that roughly an equal number of the opposition got elected too, that they can’t have everything their way. Democracy works on compromise. The problem is that now the campaign extends into the working part of government, the part where they are supposed to hammer out workable solutions not just hammer each other over the head.

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I beg to differ with the idea that we are not moving toward socialism. We have had institutions which are essentially socialist since the beginning of our nation. Our military is a socialist institution, the post office, fire and police protection, the nations roadways, the internet. Many of us will depend on Social Security and Medicare at some point in our lives.

    Stop being afraid of socialism.

  24. Peter Hahn says:

    So knuck -how are we moving in that direction? We have been moving in the direction of a bigger role for the federal government compared to state governments for a long time. But that isn’t socialism.

  25. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes I like to say “boo” just to see who jumps.

    It is only in my wildest dreams that we have single-payer universal health-care and a decent, government provided, retirement plan so that people can be unburdened from the wage slavery most of us are living in. Then people would be free to do work that they love to do and they won’t spend all week long dreaming about the weekend. Of course that will never happen because Wall Street needs everyone to have an IRA so that Wall Street has everyone’s money to play with.

    What ever happened to a bank savings account that paid 2 or 3% interest? Oh, that’s right they repealed Glass-Steagall so that banks no longer care about holding deposits and loaning money, they get cash for free from the Fed and use it to speculate.

  26. Dwight Bobsonb says:

    The most recent surprising example of this divide for me was a number of fraternity brothers from my college days three decades ago. We have been solid in our support of good will and fundraising for scholarships at our alma mater. Then, someone sent one of those emails that had a political tint and they got into it. Many immediately wanted off the regular communications that spoke only of the group effort that had made so much good possible. It was indeed sad after so many years and for no valid reason except that today, ideologies are destroying the country and what passed for American civilization by volunteerism.

  27. Walker says:

    Well, let’s see, there was George Bush’s 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. You could call that a step towards Socialism, more than Obamacare is, since the latter is based on for-profit insurance companies.

    Kathy, rather than asking us liberals what we think Obama’s steps toward Socialism have been, why don’t you ask the conservative posters? Might be very enlightening!

  28. mervel says:

    Glass-Steagall should be re-instated. How hard is that? It worked for a long time and it makes sense. The had this big phoney reform and it was and is a bunch of nothing, they could have simply brought back this very common sense regulation/Law.

    However neither political party wants to do that because both are in the pockets of the real money, which is Wall Street. President Obama got more money from Wall Street than the Republicans, Barney Frank is going to protect that industry. When it comes to real money and cronyism, greed and pride; there really is not ideological divide.

  29. Anita says:

    Thank you, Rachel! I was going to point out the same thing as you did above – the the Girl Scouts were dragged into this year’s edition of the Culture Wars, they did not go out looking for controversy and confrontation.

  30. mervel says:

    Why is everything a war? Culture war, war on drugs, war on the poor, war on women, war on the rich, and on and freaking on. Its like we can’t escape this continual extreme political language.

    I guess in some ways it is mass consumer marketing and advertising (essentially propaganda) meant to sell us something; moving into the non-market sphere of our lives, into everything.

  31. JDM says:

    khl: “Stop being afraid of socialism.”

    I applaud this. Most socialist-leaning libs are afraid to call themselves what they are. They are in socialism-denial.

    It’s as if they’re afraid to come out of the closet. You lead the way, khl!

  32. Walker says:

    OK JDM, what has Obama done that you would call socialism?

  33. mervel says:

    There is a lot of definitional issues surrounding socialism and communism. Just in my lay persons view I had thought socialism was government ownership of most major industries in a country, yet people could still own private property and there would still be some private business. Communism was government ownership of all assets in a country, no private property, the government owns all of the means of production and sets all wages and prices and everyone works for the government.

    Just having high taxes and big social programs is not socialism. Or maybe I just have it wrong?

  34. JDM says:

    Walker: “OK JDM, what has Obama done that you would call socialism?”


  35. Walker says:

    Yes, JDM, seriously.

  36. JDM says:

    Walker: “OK JDM, what has Obama done that you would call socialism?”


  37. Walker says:

    Obamacare is based entirely upon private insurance companies. There is no state ownership involved at all. How is that socialism?

  38. JDM says:

    Walker: “How is that socialism?”


  39. Peter Hahn says:

    JDM – you don’t know what socialism is. It is not the same as a social safety net. (obamacare). Single payer would be socialism because it would be the government running a major insurance “company”. Medicare and social security also could be considered socialism in the same sense. But they are socialism lite. So are public hospitals like the VA or public universities. The major focus is to provide a public service, not to control a major industry to control the economy.

    What you guys are against is the safety net. You think it makes us weak and lazy.

  40. Walker says:

    Yes, JDM, seriously. Just because Fox News calls it socialism don’t make it so. What exactly do you think socialism is?

  41. Kathy says:

    Kathy, rather than asking us liberals what we think Obama’s steps toward Socialism have been, why don’t you ask the conservative posters?

    Because I already know what conservatives believe.

    I would like the liberals to explain their position (except KHL who has).

  42. Walker says:

    Kathy, what do you think conservatives believe socialism is?

  43. PNElba says:

    Kathy –

    I too would like to know what conservatives believe these days (and why).

  44. Walker says:

    Tell you what, Kathy. To meet you half way, here’s why I think Obama isn’t a socialist: in taking on the nation’s health care, he didn’t push for a single-payer system. Single-payer is, in most countries that have it, socialism lite: the government doesn’t own the hospitals and the doctor’s offices, it simply manages payments to them.

    OK, your turn.

  45. Brian Mann says:

    Hi folks –

    I’ve been working on a blog post that wrestles with the most serious conservative claims about President Obama, one of which is that he is a sort of stealth socialist. That essay’s not ready yet, but I did want to chime in on this discussion.

    Webster’s Dictionary defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”

    It also describes it as “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” or “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”

    It is also placed in the context of Cold War era politics as “a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism.”

    As I’ve said before here, it is certainly fair to criticize Mr. Obama’s policy. And he’s clearly no libertarian.

    He believes that in a democratic and capitalist nation, there is a role for a large, influential, and active government.

    It’s fine to disagree, but that’s not by any stretch of the imagination (or by stretching the definition) socialism.

    And it’s also not significantly different from the long-standing tradition of American politics that stretches back to at least the late 1930s.

    From the stimulus to the auto bailouts, Obama’s policies have echoed those of Eisenhower, Nixon, and George W. Bush.

    Mr. Obama’s cabinet is also made up of Wall Street capitalists (to the dismay of many of his more liberal supporters).

    Again, it’s perfectly fair for conservatives to disagree with this White House and its policies, and to preserve alternatives.

    But it’s not okay to redefine language. Socialism is a very specific thing, and we have some socialists in the U.S.

    Our president, whatever his pros and cons, isn’t one of them.

    –Brian, NCPR

  46. JDM says:

    The only reason we’re dancing around the definitions here, is because Socialism is a failed experiment.

    Socialism, redefined, or repackaged, or remarketed seems to be the goal.

  47. Kathy says:

    We have to meet each other half way to work together. So, setting aside what we do not agree on, what do we agree on in regard to our interpretation of the Constitution and the writings/documents of our nation’s early history?

    Here’s my bottom line: if we cannot agree on the material used for the foundation of our nation, if we cannot acknowledge factual information not open for interpretation, then how can we work together? It’s like half the house being built with bricks and the other half being built with wood. That’s what is happening to our country.

    In fact it’s worse. I believe we are tearing it right in two.

    Socialism has been around since the beginning of time and in the early 20th century made a resurgence.

    Socialism is collectivism and empowers the people. While it makes sense on paper and would end capitalism, it is in direct opposition to what has caused our nation and its people to prosper. Setting Obamacare aside, there is a push for ending capitalism. It is viewed solely as the big bad wolf. The baby is being thrown out with the bath water – attacking the big players but affecting the small players.

    Maybe you won’t admit it, but I happen to believe that even though mankind is intelligent, we also have the ability to really screw things up. I proceed with caution and consider how our actions and decisions will affect society.

    There is a need for caring for the poor but it is not at the expense of those who have worked and gained wealth. Liberals want to equal the playing field and make everything fair. While all of us should help the poor, it is wrong and outright frightening to change the course the nation has been on. Tweak, adjust, and yes, drastic changes are in order if they are not working. But will you rip the foundation from your house or will you preserve it and build upon it?

    My question is this: how does a socialist world view affect man’s innate ability to work and produce, thus giving him the satisfaction of his accomplishments, without, over time, crushing his spirit which is acknowledged and protected in our founding documents?

  48. Pete Klein says:

    If you want an example of true socialism, just look at the Catholic Church and the US Military.
    The Pope, through his Bishops, owns all the land and buildings tax exempt in the USA. Priests, like members of the military, can own a car and the clothes on their back but they have very little control over where they serve. Both serve at the pleasure of their leaders.

  49. Kathy says:

    I don’t believe President Obama is a socialist.

    I believe he is part of the greater story of what is to come.

    We can split hairs about Obamacare and say it’s this and not that.

    But the handwriting is on the wall, in my opinion, that we are heading in the direction of socialism. And some are sounding the warning with their concerns.

  50. PNElba says:

    there is a push for ending capitalism

    Funny that. I see just the opposite. A push for deregulation, tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy; Supreme court ruling that allow for more and more control of our country by corporations and the wealthy; a Congress that refuses to see that we must raise taxes if we are to ever balance our budget.

    Where exactly is the push for ending capitalism? Obamacare is the greatest gift to capitalism (insurance companies) in decades.

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