Sunday, May 20, 2012

BJ's Polarized Politics 1/3

I’ve been reading Jeffrey Bell’s book The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism. Jeffrey Bell (can I call you Jeff? Jeffy? Jiffy Bell? J-Bell? J-Bizzy? Bell J? BJ?) was a policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and an early advocate of Jack Kemp’s supply-side tax cut. He also worked closely on the Reagan-backed Tax Reform Act of 1986. He is also an Army Vet of Vietnam and directs the Gold Standard 2012 project of the advocacy group American Principles.

He is not an academic nor is he non-partisan (if the home audience is counting double-negatives that makes him partisan). He is very much biased, but so is everyone; he can hardly be faulted for wearing his on his sleeve. His book is less an accurate and well researched portrayal of the social conservative movement and its role in polarized American politics (he has hardly any footnotes, zero endnotes, and no bibliography) and more a glimpse into the mind of a modern social conservative. This narrows two things: the scope of the book and the greater accuracy of the book. Reading it can be a frustrating experience as facts are glossed over and ignored while certain events are given undue prominence and weight. But this is coming from a Washington insider whose professional life has been in the service of determining the politics in play and making a convincing case for his perspective. His bias therefore, is one of inherent motive and less one of human error (as would be an academic’s). Ok, BJ enough about you, what about your book?

Aside from spending an entire chapter to how W tried to end polarized politics only to be rebuffed by angry liberals hell-bent on trying to change all of society, he gives a fairly straightforward and accurate depiction of the rise of social conservatism in America. What he gets wrong—often offensively so—is the perspectives and motives of the liberal left—like the first part of that last sentence. Example: “The argument of this book is that the United States has polarization, while Western Europe does not, because the United States has a social-conservative movement and Western Europe does not.” For the record, there are polarized politics in Western Europe—one need only look to the recent French elections with Marine Le Pen. They don’t manifest themselves in the same way though.