MILLER: Polarization hurts both Democrats and Republicans

January 16, 2016

2016 brings a year of important elections, along with debates and attacks from both sides of the political aisle. Debates can be interesting and informative and help reveal candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Yet too often, it seems that the attacks are focused less on policy and more on a candidate’s party identification.

Political extremism and the “all or nothing” philosophy are poisoning our once-effective government and creating a close-minded population. This certainly shows in the 2016 presidential lineup.

Online, I frequently see phrases such as “typical Democrat” or “still better than a Republican” sprinkled among a commenter’s opinions. This may appear harmless, but research shows that the political climate is more polarized than ever, with Democrats and Republicans growing farther and farther apart ideologically.

When the worst thing a candidate can be is a different party, there is a problem.

We have created a culture in which, whenever an elected official strays from party stances on one issue, he or she is removed from office the next election cycle—and typically replaced with an even more ideologically radical successor.

This type of extreme rhetoric is dangerous and creates unnecessary political conflict. When Republicans and Democrats simply point fingers, we make enemies out of one another and remove actual issues and policies from the conversation.

I still identify as a Democrat, because I agree with a majority of the Democratic policies. However, I also recognize that a candidate’s Democratic label is not his or her most important characteristic. Instead, I look to experience, ideas and proposals and acknowledge that, despite my party identification, sometimes a Republican may be better suited for the job.

While our differences are certainly important, Republicans and Democrats rarely discuss what we have in common. We both want a thriving economy with full employment, ample American jobs and opportunities, and a prosperous and successful population. We may have different ideas of how to achieve this, but many of our goals are the same.

Luckily, the very purpose of American government is to give all of these different views a voice in policymaking.

Unfortunately, this system has been failing. Our government does not work when policymakers refuse to consider a different viewpoint. The system is only successful when we can reach compromise.

“Compromise” almost feels taboo, because it seems as if no legislators are even willing to consider the option. After all, no one wants to upset their constituents or be perceived as weak. Yet, compromise is how good government happens. Compromise is how we create positive change.

The reality of compromise is that nobody ever comes out entirely satisfied. This may upset some people and policies may not be implemented exactly as planned. However, this is still better than the current political stagnation, with critical issues going unresolved.

I urge Democrats and Republicans alike to think about the current state of political polarization. Do not reject an idea simply because it came from a different party. Similarly, do not accept your own party’s statements as fact. Both parties cannot both be right all the time. Research the issues, think critically, and be receptive to opposing perspectives. While you will probably stick to your viewpoint most of the time, the true intentions of the other side may surprise you.

Massive, sweeping changes from a single ideological viewpoint are simply unrealistic and ineffective. Incremental changes and compromises may not be as exciting, but they are certainly better than the alternative of continuing to do nothing.•


Recent Articles by Hannah Miller / Special to IBJ

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