Matt Yglesias has posted an excellent response to my tantrum last week about polarization. Yglesias does a good job of using Hans Noel to argue that the current polarized situation is quite a bit different from party polarization a century or so ago, because today’s parties are both polarized and ideological. That’s true, and it’s a good catch.

That said, I need to clarify a bit. Yes, I’m sick of hearing about polarization, but I’m not saying it isn’t important. It is, and we should be studying it. And although I know (and regular readers here, or at the Monkey Cage, or at Vox know) that partisan polarization is a Truly Big Thing in contemporary U.S. politics, there are plenty of casual readers and a shockingly large group of pundits (and, for that matter, presidential candidates) who believe that it could be wished away with the right “leadership” formula. We need to keep talking about it.

And yet … my point was that we need, at the same time, to do more than simply blame partisan polarization for every event and act as if that’s sufficient. Partisan polarization (with ideological cohesion at least at the elite levels) is a good 30 years old. Yes, it has steadily increased (and probably still is increasing), but given the amazing variation in outcomes of all types since the Reagan years, it isn’t good enough to simply say “polarization” and hope that will do as a main cause.

What’s more, as I said in the original post, we need to figure out both how to live with partisan polarization and how to ameliorate its most dangerous manifestations. The former is true for polarization in general; the latter, for the most part, is about the particular dysfunctions in the broken Republican Party.

So, yes, it’s important to get polarization right. But it’s also important to get well beyond that. Still: Nice catch!

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.