Don’t quit your day job, Brooks

Don’t quit your day job, Brooks

: Said it before. Say it again: When David Brooks writes a good column, it’s good. But when he writes a dumb column it’s a doozie. File today’s under doozie.

He has been trying to write about polarization in America (see the post above this one) and today he argues:

To a large degree, polarization in America is a cultural consequence of the information age. This sort of economy demands and encourages education, and an educated electorate is a polarized electorate.

He says that people who are more educated stick to their parties and sides more loyally, therefore they are more polarized. Or, professor, it could be that they’ve thought through their views and analzye issues differently — perhaps more intelligently.

He also argues that it’s a matter of geography:

The information age was supposed to make distance dead, but because of clustering, geography becomes more important.

The political result is that Republican places become more Republican and Democratic places become more Democratic.

That’s absurd, too. I live in a rabidly Republican county and I’m a Democrat. But I don’t yell at my neighbors about politics over the fence. Nor do I long to move to a place where I can sit in the Starbucks and talk with people sure to agree with me (in fact, I’d find that pretty damned dull). I might have no hope of winning a local election, but I cast my vote in the presidential election and mine counts just as much as the vote of the liberal in Upper Montclair.

But then Brooks really goes off the deep end with his suggested fixes for this problem he’s imaginging:

Still, it’s worth thinking radically. An ambitious national service program would ameliorate the situation. If you had a big but voluntary service program of the sort that Evan Bayh, a Democrat, and John McCain, a Republican, proposed a couple of years ago, millions of young people would find themselves living with different sorts of Americans and spending time in parts of the country they might otherwise know nothing about.

It might even be worth monkeying with our primary system. The current primaries reward orthodox, polarization-reinforcing candidates. Open, nonpartisan primaries might reward the unorthodox and weaken the party bases. To do nothing is to surrender to a lifetime of ugliness.

Oh, that’s cute: The ideology draft: Forced service to meet people not like you. Well, you know, everybody isn’t like me already. And “nonpartisan primaries”? That’s oxymoronic; it’s just plain illogical.

: Micah Sifry responds to the same doozie column asking, What political ghettoes?

Here are some problems with these notions:

-50% of us don’t bother to vote in presidential elections; barely over 1/3 vote in non-presidential years and in some cases single digit turnouts have been sighted for some municiipal and even statewide races. If partisanship was on the rise, surely that would lead to much higher identification with each party’s candidates, and thus be reflected in higher turnouts.

-More Americans are identifying as political independents and registering as such (or “decline to state”), while Democratic identifiers are sharply down and Republicans are flat. This recent column by Rhodes Cook spells out some of the salient facts.

-The information economy isn’t as big as Brooks cliaims, so his theory that more of us are suddenly free to move wherever we like and thus congregate in places “where people share their cultural aesthetic and…political values” seems like quite a stretch. And even in such places, diversity reigns.

Go read the rest.

See, we’re not as divided as they — media and politicians — say we are. Only the extremists are.