Wednesday, December 03, 2003

P&F Gets Results from Robert Samuelson!

A half-year after I questioned the notion of partisan polarization, we find this Washington Post column, which makes the same argument. Note the conclusion:
As for media and intellectual elites -- commentators, academics, columnists, professional advocates -- they're in an attention-grabbing competition. They need to establish themselves as brand names. For many, stridency is a strategy. The right feeds off the left and the left feeds off the right, and although their mutual criticisms constitute legitimate debate, they're also economic commodities. To be regarded by one side as a lunatic is to be regarded by the other as a hero -- and that can usually be taken to the bank through more TV appearances, higher lecture fees, fatter book sales and larger audiences and group memberships. Polarization serves their interests. Principle and self-promotion blend.

All this is understandable and, in a democracy, perhaps unavoidable. But it distorts who we are and poses a latent danger: Someday we might become as hopelessly polarized as we're already supposed to be. [Emphasis added.]
I'm not quite prepared to embrace Samuelson's doomsday scenario, though his point is well-taken. But he ignores an alternative: isn't it possible for the less-polarized citizenry to become disillusioned with the more-polarized elites, thus exacerbating the disconnect between average Joes and Janes and party leaders, media honchos, and public intellectuals? This is David King's thesis. It's more plausible to me than Samuelson's, which seems to overestimate the influence of institutions and gatekeepers.

NB: Say, you think that Samuelson might have his own vested interests, do you?! After all, there's no better way for a columnist to get attention than to be contrarian. Hmmm....


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