Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is This the Root of the Great Divide?

I think Daniel Henninger may have it about right in this WSJ op-ed:
What fell out of 1968 was a profound division over what I would call civic vision.

One side, which took to the streets in Chicago or occupied Columbia University, concluded from Vietnam and the race riots that America, in its relations with the world and its own citizens, was flawed and required big changes. Their defining document was the March 1968 Kerner Commission report, announcing "two societies," separate and unequal. The press, incidentally, emerged from Vietnam and the riots joined to this new, permanent template. That, too, has never stopped.

The other side was, well, insulted. It thought America was fundamentally good, though always able to improve. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1964 on a bipartisan vote, opposed mainly by southern Democrats. This side's standard-bearer called the U.S. "a shining city upon a hill." But after 1968, no Democratic presidential candidate would ever speak those words.

From my lofty, radically moderate perch, I can see a way that both sides can be right: There is a spectrum of areas where America goes from doing pretty well to being criminally awful. In some areas, big changes are needed. In others, things need some tweaking. In still others (a lot of others), things are working just fine.

The great fallacy of the Right is that all change is bad. The great fallacy of the Left is that big, revolutionary changes are possible without disastrous unintended consequences. When politics works, the two sides eventually come to an accommodation: The worst problems are addressed slowly, with a set of conservative, incremental changes.

But the Great Divide is widening and hardening. The speed of information transfer has created a new, unhealthy dynamic, where it's impossible to straddle the divide and effect the compromises necessary for incremental change. We can't dispose of the technology that is powering this rift. We have to find new, stable dynamics where the technology enhances our political discourse, rather than destroying it.

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