Polarization starts at the top

By Marc Thiessen   
Thursday, May 13, 2010; 12:00 AM

In today's lead editorial, the Post decries the "ideological purification of both parties," citing the conservatives who recently defeated Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah and the liberals who have targeted Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. "There is no particular reason why all advocates of fiscal restraint should also oppose abortion rights, or why supporters of a progressive tax code should necessarily favor restrictions on gun ownership," the editorial reads.

The Post is on strong ground to make this argument. It is one of the most diverse editorial pages in the country. It supports many traditional liberal positions, but it also backed the liberation of Iraq and school choice for poor District children. The Post is essentially asking: Why can't politicians be more like us?

The answer is: What makes a successful editorial page does not necessarily make for a successful politician. The Post's unpredictability is what makes it so interesting, and draws readers to its pages. But unpredictability is not what draws people to political candidates. Politicians must be more than interesting -- they must represent real people, in communities that share common values. Voters want to elect congressmen and senators who reflect their beliefs and will fight for them in the nation's capital.

Voters in Utah are conservative, and they are recoiling from the fiscal profligacy in Washington today. Bob Bennett's chosen campaign theme was that if he were re-elected, he would be the ranking Republican on the water and natural resources committee energy and water appropriations subcommittee and would be able to deliver for Utah. To say that this was off-message in today's political climate is an understatement. That is why he lost.

Arkansas is a state that has traditionally elected conservative Republicans and centrist Democrats. It will be interesting to see how Blanche Lincoln fares. But there is nothing wrong with people who believe in certain values working to elect people who share those values and defeat those who do not.

The polarization The Post editorial board decries is a reaction to the radical agenda Obama is pursuing in our nation's capital. Obama has eschewed the bipartisanship pursued by his predecessors, President Bush (No Child Left Behind) and President Clinton (NAFTA, welfare reform), in their first years in office. Instead, he has pursued a maximalist liberal agenda and refused any real compromise. When you pass a radical overhaul of health care along strict party lines, using clever parliamentary tactics to avoid compromise with the other party, it's going to have a ripple effect across the electorate.

Conservatives are energized to elect candidates who will stand up to Obama and fight his efforts to expand the size and scope of government. Liberals want to elect candidates who will stand up for Obama and stand in the way of efforts to thwart his agenda. The tone has been set from the top. When the occupant of the White House changes his approach, or is thrown out of office, the polarization will subside.

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