It’s widely believed on the American left that the Democrats have moved right and that the difference between the parties has nearly vanished. That’s a tempting POV, for sure. But it’s hard to reconcile with Congressional voting habits. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, both parties had liberal and conservative wings. Starting in the 1980s, they began to diverge, and now by one measure, they’ve never been so polarized. This is via ABC’s The Note:
“In the long march toward a more parliamentary and partisan Washington, National Journal‘s 2010 congressional vote ratings mark a new peak of polarization,” National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein writes. “For only the second time since 1982, when NJ began calculating the ratings in their current form, every Senate Democrat compiled a voting record more liberal than every Senate Republican—and every Senate Republican compiled a voting record more conservative than every Senate Democrat. Even Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, the most conservative Democrat in the rankings, produced an overall voting record slightly to the left of the most moderate Republicans last year: Ohio’s George Voinovich and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. The Senate had been that divided only once before, in 1999. But the overall level of congressional polarization last year was the highest the index has recorded, because the House was much more divided in 2010 than it was in 1999. Back then, more than half of the chamber’s members compiled voting records between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. In 2010, however, the overlap between the parties in the House was less than in any previous index.” NationalJournal.com’s full Vote Ratings.
What to make of this? What to make of the fact that Dem leader Harry Reid’s voting record ties him with the nominal socialist Bernie Sanders to put them both among the most liberal members of the Senate? Politics certainly doesn’t feel polarized—there looks to be a suffocating consensus in favor of the status quo. Is it that one party is insanely right wing and the other is just tepidly so? Is that what polarization looks like?