Comment on Jacob Jensen, Ethan Kaplan, Suresh Naidu, and Laurence Wilse-Samson, "The Dynamics of Political Language": as prepared for delivery:
Let me pick up and expand on the line of discussion initiated by David Gergen's excellent comment.
I think this paper does an excellent job of documenting and helping us understand ideological polarization.
I think this paper does not do a good job of understanding partisan polarization.
Theodore Roosevelt in 1896 was a Republican attack dog, denouncing Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan as a mere puppet of the Alien Communist Anarchist John Peter Altgeld. Bryan, Roosevelt said:
would be as clay in the hands of the potter under the astute control of the ambitious and unscrupulous Illinois communist... free coinage of silver... but a step towards the general socialism which is the fundamental doctrine of his political belief... He seeks to overturn the... essential policies which have controlled the government since its foundation...
That's language as extreme as any we hear today--and this comes from somebody who is shortly to be Vice President, not from mere Secretary of State of Kansas Chris Kobacs saying that he is thinking of kicking the President off the ballot because he is a Kenyan Muslim and not a natural-born citizen.
Theodore Roosevelt, however, was very happy to make deals with Democrats--to put himself at the head not just of the Republican Party but of the bipartisan Progressive coalition, and try to either yoke them together or tack back and forth to achieve legislative and policy goals.
By contrast, Obama--and Clinton before him--have not been able to get people like Collins, Snowe, Voinovich, McCain to vote for their very own campaign finance and climate change policies.
Obama has not been able to get Mitt Romney to endorse his own health care plan.
Obama has not been able to get Paul Ryan to endorse his own IPAB Medicare cost-control proposal.
Why not? Because their party leaders have told them not to.
That partisan polarization seems to me to be very different from the ideological polarization, which is what we saw in the New Deal 1930s and the Progressive Era 1900s.
And this partisan polarization is not exclusively but largely concentrated among the Republicans. There are no signs that the Feinsteins, the Lincolns, the Nelsons, and so forth have been willing to sacrifice their policy preferences at all in order to give their president a victory or give the president of the opposing party a defeat. Things appear very different on the Democratic and the Republican sides.