Bob Ehrlich: Polarization a Result of Policies, Not Partisanship


One of my great frustrations is to watch how often the media confuse policy differences with partisan differences. And at no time has it been more important to recognize that our deeply polarized nation is a result of the former.

It’s not that partisanship is a good thing — it is in fact almost always counterproductive. It states that you are required to oppose the other person because he or she wears a different uniform, that the singular act of identifying with one party requires total opposition to the other.

Partisanship so defined reveals itself as petty, dissatisfying and unfortunately more dangerous than ever in the age of social media.

Still, our focus today should be on the profound policy differences between the two major parties. Fissures are everywhere — and they are more obvious and pronounced during the current pandemic.

Indeed, naïve Americans who believe that “flattening the curve” through mitigation during this terrifying worldwide health crisis was the hard part have been rudely awakened to the reality of hardball — politics as usual — and a cynical political admonition, “never let a crisis go to waste.”

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The prescriptions of left versus right have never been more opposed or more obvious.

Gun control? One side believes access to firearms is essential; the other possesses a far more nuanced view of Second Amendment rights.

Lawsuits? One side desires to extend liability protections for manufacturers and suppliers in the midst of a pandemic; the other side always reserves the right to sue, regardless of circumstances.

Immigration? One side wishes to limit extraordinary federal benefits to actual citizens; the other side seeks to provide those same benefits to those who should not be here in the first place.

Censorship? One side rallies on behalf of opening the private economy; the other perpetrates controlled lockdowns in the name of public health.

Church attendance? One side sees services as constitutionally protected medicine for the soul; the other side not so much, going so far as to shut down even outside religious gatherings.

Relief funds? One side wants to focus relief dollars on job creators and small businesses; the other on “ballot harvesting,” cannabis “diversity detectives” (in the words of Senator Mitch McConnell) and blue states with a history of high taxes and budget deficits.

Embattled Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer may have said it best for the authoritarian types when she claimed that large protest rallies in opposition to her lockdown orders are “racist” and “misogynistic.”

Only a true blue progressive would associate citizens demanding their freedom to conduct commerce with such charges. Alas, it appears many left-leaning governors and officials unsurprisingly agree.

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I for one am happy these wide differences on the coronavirus response are playing out in the halls of Congress and on the presidential campaign trail. The unfolding debate is not simply a political play; the differences are real and often emotional. One side identifies with the redemptive value of freedom of commerce and freedom, the other with the authority attendant to government dictates and control.

Back to the realpolitik strategies playing out today.

In light of so many draconian state and local orders, it appears that those with public sector control proclivities do indeed see the coronavirus as an opportunity to accomplish something that competitive elections have failed to deliver: a more socialism-accepting electorate, one that values handouts over self-reliance and one that readily accepts expansive government edicts.

In the words of Washington Post columnist Dave Balz, “For the first time, many Americans are looking to government for their very economic survival. In time, that could make them look at government differently.”

For further context, recall that Joe Biden has now added Alexandria Ocasio Cortez as his policy consultant on climate change and Beto O’Rourke as his “go-to” person for personal arms confiscation and is currently working with Bernie Sanders on an economic manifesto. Talk about a transformed country…

One can only imagine the dent this crowd would make in what was until very recently an ascendant economy and country.

Just a thought as you consider all the depressing news emanating from Joe Biden’s basement.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.