Polarization: It’s Everyone’s Fault

I can not count how many complaints I have heard about the Tester/Rehberg television ads. “It makes me not want to vote at all.” “Why are they so brutal to one another?” “I don’t even listen. I know who I’m voting for, regardless of what they say.”

These kind of complaints bore me because, regardless of how overplayed the ads are, America is all about political extremes. After all, our original uprising against our colonizers was an act of “terrorism” in that we destroyed goods in an effort to make a political statement. Our system merely works to hide ideological extremes until that point at which they are completely impassable and, therefore, require a platform. This is due, in part, to our system of election which encourages politicians to use their last year in office to prove their electability, and also in part due to the rampant issue-based dogma that we allow to dictate the polls.

That’s right, I said it; we encourage polarization in politics. If negative ads and polarizing issues did not work at pushing people to vote in a certain way, or not at all, PACs and politicians would not use them. All these election-tools do is capitalize on what our leaders are already hearing from the general populace. Every time no one steps in while Westboro Baptist Church protests a soldier’s funeral, every time we call someone else a “faggot”, every time we make excuses for politicians that support eugenics (yeah, that actually is a thing), and every time we write off an entire sector of our population as “slothful” and “lazy”, we encourage our leaders to generalize, and inadvertently polarize, life-changing policy issues.

Congress’ divided chasm is, therefore, understandable since they are merely responding to the various levels of extremism that we display, especially when it comes to individual policy platforms. We demand that our leaders take an absolutist stance on particular issues that should require further clarification, and throw them out of office when other factors push them in a separate direction than we would like. It’s no wonder that our congress can not get anything passed; we elect politicians based upon the promulgation of division on specific issues because they “are better than the other person at this one thing” and then wonder why our leaders fail at creating solutions. That is, after we rake them over the coals when they do attempt to work across the isle for being hypocritical and disloyal.

That being said, part of the blame can be placed on our political system. America can not decide if it wants political parties, where the entirety of an elected official’s decisions are pre-determined for them, or if we like a more individually representative order. Most of us would tout “maverick” politicians for being less obstructionist, but once election season comes along we hang them out to dry for not being the perfect partisan.

This bottom-up hatred, combined with the fear of being tossed out of office, has only encouraged the polarization of the American political system. And, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We did elect them, after all.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author


I am a Montanan, fisher-person, and a passionate progressive. My political interests lie within political ethics, economic justice, and the responsiveness of government to the needs of real people.


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  • I’m planning on expanding this after the election when I have more time, but I think part of the problem is that voter turnout is so far below 100%. It’s much easier to try to increase base turnout than to try to convince people to switch sides. And to motivate people to actually show up to vote, you have to either prove that you are a saint, or that the other guy is the devil. Guess which is easier? And even if you don’t get your own people out, you can at least convince voters not to vote for your opponent.

    • Negative ads dominate close races just to depress turnout. For Tester-Rehberg (or Obama-Romney), there are so few undecideds that you can’t hope to get many more converts, but you can depress the opponent’s supporters to the point they won’t vote for either side.*

      It’s especially important to maintain morale among would-be Tester voters. Every disillusioned person that chooses not to vote is vindicating the Rove/Rehberg negative media strategy.

      *(Gratuitous appeal to authority: I haven’t worked campaign communications enough to have this insight on my own. It came from a Harvard professor and campaign strategist, who specializes in electing Dems in rural states).

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