Noisy Presidential Politics Is a Good Sign
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan bewails, in her column this week, that “the sane center is getting ignored” in the current round of presidential politics.
“When we talk about politics,” she writes, “no one speaks of the center, which is vast and has something neither way-left nor way-right has, and that is a motivating love for America itself … As a group they are virtually ignored, and yet they are the center of everything.”
I am tempted to say that Peggy Noonan is locked in a time warp, stuck in an American reality that may have once been. But I doubt that America was ever defined by some plain vanilla moderate center that she longs for.
Noonan wrote speeches for President Reagan, who emerged big time on the national scene with a speech he gave at the 1964 Republican convention called “A Time for Choosing.” That speech’s message was the exact opposite of idealizing some moderate political center. Reagan conveyed that our nation is about ideals, about right and wrong, and the willingness to fight and sacrifice for these ideals.
The same time as that Republican convention, Rev. Billy Graham spoke to 29,000 in Columbus, Ohio. “The country is disturbed,” he said. Young people “are desperately wanting someone to tell them this is right and that is wrong.”
I am on and off airplanes all the time, in constant motion around this great nation. I talk to fellow Americans constantly — at work in a variety of communities, in hotels, in airports.
Americans are, in general, not happy with the state of affairs. It has been over 15 years since more than 50% of Americans told Gallup that they are satisfied with the way things are going in the nation.
If the political stage is polarized, it is because the nation is polarized — not because politicians are ignoring some “vast” political silent majority in the center.
Several years ago, Pew Research Center reported just how increasingly polarized Americans have become.
The gap in opinion between Republicans and Democrats regarding government activism in welfare was 47 points in 2017 compared with a difference of 20 points in 1994.
The gap in opinion between Republicans and Democrats about the problem of discrimination was 50 points in 2017 compared with a difference of 13 points in 1994.
The gap in opinion between Republicans and Democrats on the immigration issue was 42 points in 2017 compared with 2 points in 1994.
Overall, on 10 different political issues that Pew tracked from 1994 to 2017, the average gap between Republicans and Democrats increased from 15 points in 1994 to 36 points in 2017.
There is no vast political “center” that is being ignored.
Americans are deeply divided about what the country is about and is going to be.
For sure, the status quo is not an option. Fiscally, there has been dramatic expansion of government over the years, with it entering into practically every aspect of the lives of private Americans. Socially, there has been vast deterioration of the traditional values that preserved the American family and our respect for the sanctity of life.
We may recall Abraham Lincoln’s prophesy that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Lincoln was talking then about slavery. Today, we have a house deeply divided — a major part now defined by socialism and secular humanism, and the remainder true to the vision of the founders, a free nation under God.
As Lincoln said back in 1858, we can’t stay divided. We’ll become “all one … or all the other.”
It’s the theme of my new book, “Necessary Noise: How Donald Trump Inflames the Culture War and Why This Is Good News For America” (Center Street).
Today’s “noise” emanates from the eye of the political storm searching “who we are now, who we should be, and this clarity matters.”
This is what is playing out now before us and will continue through November 2020.
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