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The Two Parties Continue to Get More Polarized

Only a few decades ago it was common for many Congressional Republicans to be more liberal than some of their Democratic colleagues and vise versa. Those days though are over. An analysis by the National Journal found that last year the parties were the most polarized they have ever been in modern times. From the National Journal:

The former lawmaker might be right: Predictions of continued polarization have been a safe bet in Washington for more than a decade. Such a wager would have been dead on for 2012. NJ’s annual vote ratings found that historic partisanship once again gripped Congress. For the third year in a row, no Republican member of the Senate had a more liberal voting record than any Democrat—just as no Democratic senator had a more conservative record than any Republican. What was once a milestone in the ongoing march of political polarization—the absence of ideological crossovers in National Journal’s rankings happened for only the second time ever in 2010—is now nearly as unremarkable in the Senate as naming a post office.

The House was barely more heterogeneous. Only 10 Democrats registered a more conservative score than the most liberal Republican; only five Republicans were more liberal than the most conservative House Democrat, Boren. Rep. Chris Gibson of New York was the most liberal Republican.

A few decades ago there actually were a lot of DINOs (Democrats in name only) and RINOs. This made it a lot easier to get bipartisan bills because the bills could basically be bipartisan in name only. Those days though are gone and the current trends indicate there are not coming back. Eventually Washington will need to deal with this fact instead of pretending that if only Obama would invite McConnell over for a game of poker everything would magically become sunshine and unicorns.

We can deal with the issue by adopting election reforms that would make more parties viable across the political spectrum. That would at least address the zero-sum political problem that as long as the two parties are to blame neither suffers at the ballot.

Or we could make it easier for the party that wins an election to actually govern, like in a parliamentary system such as the UK. Eliminating the filibuster would be a first step down that path. But our current political reality is no longer functioning under our current legislative setup.

Images by Donkey Hotey under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at