Sunday, October 21, 2018

Interview from the Archive: Why are American politics so polarized? The Moderate Voice's Joe Gandelman explains.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in June 2017.

Tolerance -- at least as far as opposing views are concerned -- is no virtue in contemporary American politics. Perhaps one could stretch this to cover society itself.

Such a sad state of affairs accounts for the Republican-led federal government shutdown a few years back and the more recent Democratic opposition to Donald Trump's cabinet nominees.  Political obstruction rules the day; specifically if one is not in lockstep with whatever partisan bases, oft-fueled by rancorous pundits, wish to see.

Since different groups want different things, chaos and malaise are the natural results.

Joe Gandelman has watched as our country's political center shrank to the point of near-irrelevance. Publisher of The Moderate Voice, he also, like the biography on his website tells, "spent nearly 20 years in the newspaper business before he decided to dash it all and become a full-time ventriloquist — a change that has him performing in the U.S. and in Canada. He performs at fairs, festivals, schools, corporate events, libraries and has been on television."

Despite his full-time entertainer status, Gandelman continues his work at TMV, though front-and-center moderation has come at a high cost as of late. Gandelman discussed this and much more with me recently. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: This is a very polarized time not only in American politics, but Western Civilization. Moderate policies and politicians have become maligned for several different reasons, many of which depend on the country being referred to. Across the United States, though, what is the paramount reason for our situation?

Joe Gandelman: Yes we've come a long way from not just decades ago but 2008 when Gil Troy wrote a superb book:"Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best President" -- and included Ronald Reagan in that category because[ Ronald Reagan reached across the aisle. I actually firmly believe there are a variety of factors. I have LONG believed what The Daily Beast's Executive Editor John Avlon has written in his columns and books (and have noted it at times in my posts on The Moderate Voice): talk radio played a big part in this.

I believe the change in our media and even entertainment (the great comedy Animal House celebrated being outrageous and loud when John Belushi popped that zit) have played a huge role. Rush Limbaugh started out funny and critical of George HW Bush until GHWB invited him to sleep over in the Lincoln Bedroom and Limbaugh changed his tone (I'm not the only one to note this but have for years since I was a Limbaugh listener back when he was funny). He became serious, his show became a kind of GOP town hall turning politics akin to professional wrestling...Roger Ailes merged conservative talk with news...the internet blogs didn't produce citizen journalists but citizen op ed writers and citizen party activists.

Cable greatly increased narrow-casting, Facebook and Twitter helped that trend. Gerrymandering, fear of being primaried all played a role. "Moderate" has become a dirty word to many in b-o-t-h parties. "Going moderate" is an awful accusation to make to some on the left and right. Moderates in both parties became the hunted by purists on the right and left. The whole trend has gone towards more narrow. Guests who pause and think on cable shows don't get invited back. It's giving a quick, punchy, memorable (if simplistic) answer that matters.

Just look at the cable shows where two people argue and scream and the host almost salivates. "We'll have to have both of you back!" (Real feeling: This is GREAT TV!)
Nuance...consensus are all dirty words today. 

Cotto: Are there any similarities between the key reason for polarized politics here and what is happening in the United Kingdom, France, as well as Holland?

Gandelman: In Europe, it's being attributed to the refugees, reaction to government not working as well as it could, etc. But one of the key similarities is that part of the population now feels it's cool and smart to be the opposite of liberal or to maintain liberal values. If you look at all these countries, it's clear the voters that are going for this "new" (actually old) brand of politics feel the establishments of their countries are elites who don't listen to them or care about their fears and concerns.

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