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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

American politics is a bicycle with a rusty chain, flat tires and no brakes. It’s broken, and it’s not taking any of us where we want to go.

Congress is so bogged down in conflict it can barely function. Presidents have found it’s easier to issue executive orders than win over legislators. Polarization has grown to the point that people in each party increasingly see the opposition as dangerous extremists.

It’s tempting to blame this entirely on voters. Donald Trump and supporters think the left is hellbent on destroying him because he represents real Americans and patriotic values. A lot of other people think the problem is all the Trump supporters who dislike minorities and believe things that aren’t true. If only those other people would come to their senses, each side thinks, things would be fine.

Some of the fault is in ourselves. But some of it is the product of a political system that has changed in ways that magnify our worse qualities and suppress our better ones. Trump is mostly a symptom rather than a cause.

The fundamental problem is the gap between what most Americans want and what our elected officials increasingly represent. The most sharp-edged figures set the agenda for both parties — Trump and Ted Cruz in the GOP, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with Democrats.

Jeb Bush and John Kasich had no real chance in the 2016 Republican race because they didn’t excite the hard right. Hillary Clinton evoked tepid enthusiasm among the Democratic rank and file because of her establishment credentials. Satisfying ideologues takes precedence over appealing to the broad mass of citizens.

The two parties in Congress have never been so dissimilar in their voting patterns or so reluctant to work together. The overlap that existed when there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats is gone, taking pragmatic bipartisan problem-solving with it.

This shift leaves a lot of citizens unrepresented. A majority of Americans regard themselves as moderate, slightly liberal or slightly conservative — more than in the 1970s — but these centrists have the least influence.

Just look at the debate over Obamacare. Republicans thrived politically by adamantly opposing it and promising to repeal it. But now they find that position unpopular with the electorate. Only 12 percent of Americans favor the Senate health care bill, with 53 percent in favor of keeping Obamacare. The amazing thing is not that the bill is so unpopular but that Republicans may enact some version of it regardless.

How could that happen in a democratic country? Today, all sorts of institutional factors promote and reward all-or-nothing militancy. If we want to encourage our leaders to find solutions they can agree on, we need to create conditions that foster compromise. Fortunately, there are reforms that could help. Here are a few:

—Revise campaign finance laws. “Increasing or entirely removing limits on how much money party organizations can raise and spend would be a step toward reducing polarization,” argue political scientists Raymond La Raja and Brian Schaffner, because parties tend to have a moderating influence. Existing restrictions on parties induce candidates to “seek a greater share of donations directly from highly ideological individuals and group donors.” Giving parties more latitude would nudge politicians toward the middle.

—Scrap party primaries. California has replaced them with “open” primaries, which pit all candidates against one another, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceeding to the general election. Research by political scientists Eric McGhee and Boris Shor indicates the change has had a moderating effect on outcomes. Another option comes from Louisiana, which forgoes primaries in favor of an open general election, with a runoff if no one gets a majority. It could help centrists because general elections involve more voters, diluting the influence of zealots.

The great majority of Americans have more in common with one another and more willingness to cooperate than they may realize. They need to repair a political system that seems rigged to keep them from getting their way.

Steve Chapman blogs at Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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27 responses to “A Polarized Public? No. A Polarizing System”

  1. This is the sort of conversation we all need to be having. Change is always difficult, and the longer any of us are in a groove and have an established way of doing things or how we look at the world, the more painful it is to break away.

    The political system in America, and in the Western World in general, are excellent examples of how a system can become so calcified and divisive as time passes and when the system isn’t founded on deep and fundamental moral and spiritual principles.

    To think that any man-made political system is impermeable, and built to automatically adjust to changing times and naturally arising social exigencies, is unrealistic and immature on our part to think this way. I’ve already on several occasions offered a model of what a new electoral system should be based on—what we devise at first need not replicate exactly the Baha’i Administrative Order and its inherent Electoral System which rules out partisanship, electioneering and decision-making that satisfies vested interests.

    Such negative qualities outlined, current in our partisan form of governance, have NO viability whatsoever in the matrix of The Baha’i Administrative Order, as clearly outlined by Baha’u’llah, elucidated by Abdu’l Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and stressed repeatedly by The Universal House of Justice.

    • dtgraham says:

      I’ve become a believer in proportional representation, with a PR threshold floor high enough to keep out kooky fringe parties, but also low enough to allow the legitimate voice of the electorate to have some influence on governance in a proportional sense.

      Of course you have to have more than two parties for this system.

      • dpaano says:

        What we seriously need to do is get rid of Citizen’s United. Things have gone downhill since that was enacted. Our government is bought and paid for by big corporations…..our congressmen and women don’t care what we have to say anymore… just depends on how much a corporation is willing to pay them. After all, look at all the insurance companies that have paid McConnell to push his miserable health care plan? They paid each and every one of the 13 men on the committee….what did we expect? We need to get these corporations OUT of our politics!!!

        • dtgraham says:

          From your lips to god’s ears.

          • dpaano says:

            Let’s hope that God is still listening and hasn’t given up on this godforsaken country!

          • dtgraham says:

            When he hears “progressives” in this article strongly imply that Elizabeth Warren is one of the problems, I’m sure he’s shaking his head.

            I wonder if he can block a country?

  2. dtgraham says:

    There are some good and interesting ideas here, and a few of them should be obvious. The problem is that Steve Chapman overlooks something. He claims that the fundamental problem is the gap between what most Americans want — moderate, centrist candidates — and what our elected officials increasingly represent, which is…candidates who aren’t that.

    Fair enough, but it seems to me that the Democratic party delivered the ultimate moderate centrist Presidential ticket to Americans last November. In fact, the head of that ticket was on record pleading guilty about being a moderate and a centrist in September of 2015. I don’t recall it working out too well 14 months later. Not that she wouldn’t have been a fine and dignified President but……

    Chapman says that, “They need to repair a political system that seems rigged to keep them (moderate, centrist, loving Americans) from getting their way.”

    The DNC rigged their primary process to give the centrist, moderate, candidate every possible advantage last year. So, getting them their way should have worked…no?

  3. ⭐️Most Accurate Poster 2017⭐️ says:

    Horseshoe theory does a good job of explaining why it is that extremists on either side are basically identical – which is why I get death threats and racist abuse as much (if not more) from Bernie cultists as neo-Nazis.

    • dbtheonly says:

      There are strong similarities between TPR and TPL. Almost funny at times.

      • dtgraham says:

        If Elizabeth Warren is a “sharp-edged figure” who does not represent what most Americans want, according to the article, then there would appear to be some pretty strong similarities between talking points of the establishment centrist Democrats and talking points of the right. The right also doesn’t like Elizabeth Warren, in case you haven’t noticed.

        • dbtheonly says:

          You’re definitions of center, right, and left, for that matter, seem fuzzy. You may slip into the problem of defining your terms in reference to the outcome.

          The other great advantage Democrats have is that we can agree or disagree with our leaders on various issues. Warren & I can agree or not on any given issue. Doctrinal purity is something we don’t demand. Agreement on the core issues is enough.

          • dtgraham says:

            One of the core issues is that you can’t believe that Elizabeth Warren is a sharp-edged figure who doesn’t represent what most Americans want. If one does believe that, he or she can stop the progressive-liberal play acting at that point.

            I think Steve Chapman just gave an easy definition.

          • dbtheonly says:

            We’re also allowed to blow raspberries at the authors. I do so myself on many occasions.

            Agree with what you agree on. Disagree otherwise. Doctrinal Purity can be left to the Republicans or the TPL.

          • dtgraham says:

            No, you’re wrong. You’re not just free to believe in nothing, and yet still call yourself a progressive or a liberal. So what do you disagree with Elizabeth Warren on? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Dodd-Frank or pre-Bill Clinton Glass Steagall? Health care for all without medical bankruptcies? Ending the usury private student loan industry? Opposing a woman’s right to choose? Opposing the 2005 bankruptcy law? Harsher rules on credit agencies? Lilly ledbetter? Opposing the death penalty? Public financing of elections? Restricting the second amendment and raising the minimum wage to some liveable level? Full support for labor unions, social security, medicare, and medicaid? To name just a few.

            You’re not free to believe in nothing just because you don’t want to be doctrinally pure. You have to believe in something. It’s like some Democrats are now increasingly saying — what do we stand for? People have to know. Otherwise become an Independent. Or join the Libertarian Party.

            There are reasons why the Democratic party is in the sorry shape that it’s in today. The prime reason is the Inspector Clouseau attitude of members like you. “I believe in everything and I believe in nothing.” “I agree with everyone and I agree with no one.”

          • dbtheonly says:

            You are certainly more familiar with the Pink Panther Movies than I. I remember no great philosophy propounded. Mostly I remember Peter Sellers pronouncing the French “rheum” (cold) like the English “room” with Bud Costello level confusion ensuing.

            Is your check list complete? How many must I check before I earn your coveted label of “liberal” or “progressive”? How many can I decline to check before you cast me into the outer darkness?

            Have you really learned nothing from the mockery “Tomato” lays on you?

          • dtgraham says:

            So you refuse to check any boxes at all huh. Not even one. As expected. I think you just proved what I was saying.

            Look, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you disagree with Elizabeth Warren on a few issues, or you’re not quite there on them, but you generally like what she stands for philosophically. That’s ok. Everybody won’t agree on everything. What’s not ok is saying that she’s outside the mainstream and is a hard-edged figure who doesn’t represent what most Americans want, and yet still claim to be a Democrat. Who are you? What do you believe in? Here’s the problem: voters don’t know either.

            I might expect that from someone who actually thinks that tomato brain makes any sense. He’s making an ass of himself stalking me around just to show me mocking his little act, and publicly displaying what I’ve always said about him. Ask yourself why the poster dpaano has him blocked too. He’s a freak and a loony toon.

            Here’s your “great philosophy propounded” oh pretentious one. Your type of Democrat, from “A shot in the Dark” — courtesy Wikipedia.


            (Regarding his having fallen into a fountain)

            “I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”

  4. dtgraham says:

    I’ve been thinking about this over the last 4 hours and wanted to add a few more points. Steve Chapman says that the parties should scrap party primaries and replace them with “open” primaries, which pit all candidates against one another with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceeding to the general election. He implies that this would favour his moderate centrist candidates.

    That reminds me of the NY Democratic primary last year. It was widely accepted by everyone at the time that a closed primary favoured the moderate centrist candidate while an open primary favoured the one who wasn’t quite so moderate and centrist. The open process being one that would involve independents and third party voters. That’s why the Clinton campaign fought for the closed process and the Sanders campaign wanted an open process. The writer has no idea what he’s talking about.

    The Republican primary also didn’t nominate a moderate centrist candidate that would have been their version of Hillary. They nominated a nut instead. Hillary may have won the popular vote overall, but that nut won 2626 counties out of 3113 total counties last November. The nut won.

    For anyone who thinks that the Sanders campaign somehow sunk Hillary, consider what Trump went through in the Republican primary. Whatever criticisms the Sanders campaign had of Hillary, were just a drop in the ocean compared to the GOP primary. Did Bernie claim that Hillary was a cancer on progressivism? No he didn’t. That was Rick perry’s take on Trump’s conservatism. Bernie insisted that all of his primary voters should please vote for Hillary in the general, and on numerous occasions furthermore. Whatever percentage of them stayed home or voted for the Green party is reflective of the Clinton/Kaine ticket and their own political beliefs, not Bernie. Bernie Sanders did his part. If Hillary’s candidacy was that fragile, what was she doing in politics at that level?

    Lastly, I would say that any writer who honestly believes that Elizabeth Warren is a nutter that most American voters want to avoid, should be writing for Red State or Fox Nation. What’s he doing here?

  5. FireBaron says:

    Overall comments
    1. Scrap partisan redistricting. This will be almost impossible to achieve. Who would be responsible for this? And please note that if the “party in power” lost seats, they would file legal challenges to the redistricting. If the “party not in power” didn’t gain seats, they would file legal challenges to the redistricting.
    2. Revise campaign finance laws. While I agree this should be done, there is a little matter of the Supreme Court. They have determined that Money equals Free Speech (something that would never have been accomplished before the Roberts Court).
    3. Abolish Party Primaries. Sorry, but that is like telling Ford Motors that they can make decisions regarding how GM operates, or Honeywell determining what GE will pay its employees. What is at issue is not the primaries. They should be restricted to just the registered members. The issue is the “Super Delegates” and how one candidate can sew up around 40% of the needed votes for nomination before the first ballot is cast. No State should allow its “Super Delegates” to declare support before their State’s primary or caucus. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz did the country and the Democratic Party a major disservice by deciding the issue for Hillary Clinton before Iowa and New Hampshire, so all the potential “A-List” candidates stayed home.

    • dbtheonly says:

      Agree with almost all.

      Superdelegates, about 10% of the total are elected Democrats. I’ve got no problem with them having a say on who leads out ticket. Why shut them out?

      Hillary was, and is still, widely popular among the Party. Sanders wasn’t a Democrat until he wanted to use my Party to run for President. He’s since stopped being a Democrat. The term “one night stand” was bandied about during the primary season. DWS didn’t and didn’t have to do anything. Hillary was the selection of a strong majority of Democrats.

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