William Galston and Pietro Nivola have an interesting piece on the rise of geographic segregation in political presences, where more-and-more people now live in whole counties full of co-partisans. It ends, however, with a pretty lame entry into the literature of bellyaching about polarization:
Because politics is a contact sport, hard-hitting partisan competition is unavoidably part of the game. A party system that differentiates sharply between alternatives has virtues, not the least being that it engages more voters, offers clearer choices and enhances accountability. But hyperpartisan politics also do damage, not least to public trust and confidence in government — and many Americans understandably yearn for less polarization. Because the underlying structure of our politics remains so deeply divided, the 2008 election may not requite their wish.
These upsides are what I wrote about in my “case for partisanship” article and stacking the upsides against the Galston/Nivola downsides, I think polarization looks pretty good. On the one hand, we have more engaged voters, clearer choices, and more accountability. All of those are good things. The downside is allegedly “public trust and confidence in government.” But it’s not even clear that that’s a bad thing. I don’t trust the government as much as I did before I learned that it was running a network of secret prisons in Eastern Europe and organizing an illegal surveillance program, but I’d say that’s a merited decline in trust.
Why would we pine away for a shift that would make government less accountable but more trusted?