I’m extremely wary of those who spend too much time focusing on tactics, tone, and the alleged incivility of our political life. If anything, there is far too much consensus on important issues, particularly where elite and popular opinion diverge, i.e., immigration, gay marriage. From Hilary Clinton to John McCain, our politicians spend far too much time discussing their opponents’ “mean” rhetoric and “dirty tricks.” Similarly, while I think Andrew Sullivan’s criticism of Bob Herbert and the politics of polarization in The French Third Republic are interesting, I also think his own decision to prioritize gay marriage above every other issue, including national security, takes away his own credibility to decry our political culture.
Polarization is not just a question of tone; it is also a question of policy. Radical liberalism, by putting every inherited folkway and institution in its rationalist crucible, does more to raise the stakes than any of the rear guard actions waged by conservatives in defense of the way things have always been done.