Andrew Gelman asks:
This brings me to a research question: is contrarian-ness on the increase, or have pundits been doing this sort of thing forever? All someone needs to do is come up with a good measure for it and go through the right database and find out the answer. I really feel like the op-eds have become more contrarian in recent decades. Probably this is impossible to measure, but if anyone has a good idea, go for it!
My strong sense is that contrarianness reached its apogee in the 1990s when a general sense took over that politics was basically silly and that punditry should be seen as basically akin to the college debate circuit wherein the idea is to construct the most clever possible argument rather than to actually hit on the truth. When this general spirit of the times merged with the elite press’ inexplicable loathing of Al Gore you started getting really bizarre arguments being made with a straight face. People would say that one good thing about George W. Bush was that he was dimwitted, which made him understand leadership. Or that a big problem with Gore was that he was interested in public policy.
This attitude brought us thousands of Americans killed in a terrorist attack, thousands more killed in a senseless war, and eventually the collapse of the world economy. But that in turn has at least to a small extent reminded people that it actually does matter what happens and who’s right.