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The Politics of Polarization

Why you won’t see a centrist Third Way this year.

May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By JEFFREY BELL
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Like the push to lock in the Democratic party’s commitment to same-sex marriage, the defeat of Lugar was the work of his party’s ideological base. The biggest event in Republican politics in the Obama years has been the rise of the Tea Party, which was ignited by CNBC business reporter Rick Santelli less than a month after the new president’s inauguration. Though it has occasionally been construed as an adversary of social conservatism, the Tea Party in fact has brought to a new set of issues the same kind of morally grounded analysis, drawing on the American founding, that social conservatism has brought to social issues in recent decades.

Does this base-driven pressure for polarization, coming from both left and right, discredit the polls cited by Americans Elect showing 40 percent of voters open to a new party? Not at all. Such polls reflect intense anti-incumbent sentiment rooted in dissatisfaction with today’s sterile politics and ineffectual government.

But an election so polarized as to begin looking a bit like Armageddon is unlikely to be the one that ushers in any Third Way.

Jeffrey Bell is policy director of the American Principles Project and author of The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism.

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