American Values and Polarization: Blame our Leaders?
It’s a question that keeps coming up. Are the American people polarized or is polarization confined to a political elite? (see most notably the Abramowitz-Fiorina debate).
With the recent American Values Survey in hand Don Baer and Mark Penn favor the latter, bolding proclaiming that blame for our crippling polarization “falls squarely on our political leaders.”
The story goes something like this: The old school culture wars are kaput. No longer are we riven by religion. Social values are not so divisive. Abortion and the second amendment aside, we now have much in common:
According to the poll, large majorities of Americans now say that contraception, interracial marriage, sex education in schools, unmarried cohabitation, stem cell research, gambling, and divorce are morally acceptable. Even pre-marital sex and having children out of wedlock are morally acceptable to the majority of Americans under 65, and homosexuality is morally acceptable to the majority under 45. While marijuana is still about a draw (47 percent morally acceptable to 51 percent morally objectionable), for the most part what used to be "counterculture" is now, simply, culture.
Baer and Penn add that most of us distrust big corporations and are disturbed by wealth inequality. And then “over 80 percent of Americans say that if we want to regain our unity, we need to shrink the gap between rich and poor.”
Furthermore, according to the survey and our two interpreters, we feel that those who are elected are just fronting for the rich. And only 40% believe the wealthy got that way by working harder:
No, Americans aren't feeling divided by a failure to agree on a set of common values; they feel divided by the failure of our civic and corporate leaders to represent those values themselves. In perhaps the clearest indication of our ambivalence toward our public leaders, President Barack Obama is called out in this poll as both the most divisive and the most unifying force in the country.
Uh, but why does the blame fall squarely on our leaders? Last time I checked they had to be voted in whether directly or through negligence. And maybe those aforementioned values aren't the problem–politics will forever find and inflame the contested territory. But the thing had a happy semblance of plausibility up until the “clearest indication of our ambivalence…” Is it ambivalence or polarization? I guess it has to be ambivalence if the authors’ thesis is to hold.
Maybe it doesn't. If indeed the poll holds it will be shown in deed–at the polls, no? I am curious to discover if this Great Center votes accordingly and or enough; or at all.