It has become part of the accepted narrative of contemporary politics that we are a “divided nation”, our political discourse has become coarsened, and the gulf between people on different sides of the political spectrum is widening. I used to think this was mostly nonsense, but recently I find myself agreeing with this notion more and more. I hadn’t really thought much about why this should be the case until a co-worker of mine and I were out to lunch one day. We were talking about the health care debate and he expressed frustration that people seemed to be so divided (repeat of narrative above, etc.), most people weren’t really interested in hearing what the other side had to say, and also confessed to not understanding why things were this way. I offered an opinion and said I believed people were more divided because there were a larger number of issues that had become intertwined with politics. So if the government did not play such a large part in funding scientific research for example, the issue of federal funding for stem cell research would have never become a divisive issue. (Note that George W. Bush never intended to ban stem cell research, not even embryonic stem cell research, only federal funding for embryonic stem cell research). Even the issue of where to buy a car has become interwoven with politics because many people now see buying a car from General Motors as a political statement in favor of the administration since the U.S. Government owns approximately 60% of GM.
Anyway, as usual someone else has had the same insight and following up from today’s earlier post, it’s from the same chapter in Capitalism and Freedom:
The use of political channels, while inevitable, tends to strain the social cohesion essential for a stable society. The strain is least if agreement for joint action need be reached only on a limited range of issues on which people in any event have common views. Every extension of the range of issues for which explicit agreement is sought strains further the delicate threads that hold society together.