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This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – Bill Galston Edition

May 23, 2012

William Galston seems like a nice guy—thoughtful, considerate, member in good standing of the Clintonian reform-minded “New Democrat” faction of the Democratic Party.

But, like a nervous tic or a compulsive disorder, he keeps writing columns like “Why Republicans Aren’t The Only Ones To Blame For Polarization”.  It’s a classic example of what James Fallows calls (and calls out as) “false equivalence”.

Galston is reacting to Dionne Award recipients Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s recent work in which those two old Washington hands, skilled in the practice and analysis of bipartisan policymaking, have come to the conclusion that today’s Republican Party is “an insurgent outlier in American politics…ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Galston reflexively attempts to argue otherwise, stating in his opening paragraph that “The evidence…suggests a more complex story.”  Galston’s first clue that his own argument doesn’t hold up should have been what he wrote in the “…” part of that paragraph:  “The evidence bears this out—in part. But it also suggests a more complex story.” (emphasis added)

Point the First:  If, in your opening paragraph, you’re already admitting that the evidence supports the conclusion you’re arguing against, then you probably don’t have a good argument to make.

Galston goes on to cite extensive polling data that leads to the conclusions that:

  1. the public is more sharply divided between liberals and conservatives (with fewer self-described moderates) than 20 years ago;
  2. the political parties are more ideologically divided (conservatives dominating the Republican Party, liberals and moderates making up the bulk of the Democratic Party) than 20 years ago; and,
  3. while a solid majority of Democrats favor political compromise over ideological purity, conservative Republicans strongly oppose compromise and support ideological rigidity.

But where you or I (or even such sober-minded and even-handed observers as Mann and Ornstein) would look at those facts and conclude that, yes, Republicans and conservatives are the ones who—by their own self-description—are unwilling to compromise, Galston’s conclusion is that “All of those contributing to our current era of polarization would be wise to take heed.”

Take heed of what?  “The only alternative to reasonable compromise—the sooner the better—is a level of gridlock that would paralyze our economy and eviscerate what is left of our reputation.”

Oh, that.  So, based on his own analysis, Galston concludes that the US is facing political gridlock that that would paralyze our already too-weak economy, and eviscerate the nation’s reputation in the world.  And, despite the evidence that he himself cites, he can’t even bring himself to agree with Mann and Ornstein that today’s extremist Republican Party is causing that gridlock?

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Note to Atlantic readers and other newcomers (5/24):  Welcome!  Thanks for coming—and thanks to James Fallows for his link and his kind words.  Please feel free—even encouraged—to check the place out and to make comments on what you find here.  Again, thanks for dropping by.


From → Politics

  1. This is very well put! (And I, too, like Bill Galston.) Who is the author of this post, please? I would like to give credit. J Fallows, the Atlantic

  2. Robbert permalink

    You gotta love ‘analysis’ that says ‘if we don’t watch out, this might happen’ about something that’s already been happening for quite a while. Did Galston drive in from 2008 in a DeLorean to write this?

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