Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Polar Confusion

How Polarizing Are They? - Ezra Klein

I think Klein misses the distinction between polarization and simple mudslinging in modern politics. Two your right I've included these photos of Adolf Hitler and Stephen Spielberg as examples of the difference between someone who's very nature is polarizing and someone who, while praised by many, has not avoided controversy or had his share of mud thrown at him. Let me make this clear though, these are examples of polarization and living a high profile public life. No comparison to any particular candidate is intended by these images. They are simply useful illustrations.
Now, with that out of the way, one can see clearly why a Hitler is polarizing in a way that a Spielberg is not. The very mention of Hitler immediately causes a visceral reaction. The famous message board usage of Godwin's Law is meant to avoid causing a polarization of the conversation. On the other hand, Spielberg has had his own time in the limelight as well as his moments of criticism, both valid and vapid. The same man who made one of the most honorable war films of modern times in Saving Private Ryan was castigated when he made Munich. So Spielberg is a fine example of someone who the majority of people known and recognize but hold no firm, visceral opinion of and is vulnerable to a mudslinging campaign.
Klein attempts to deflect the idea of Hilary Clinton as a polarizing figure by pointing to John Kerry's favorability factor during the 2004 campaign. But Kerry was not polarizing in the way that Clinton is and has been for quite some time. And to say that the same results will happen when the public becomes more aware of candidates like Barak Obama and John Edwards is confusing the idea of polarization with the typical criticisms of an election. Obama and Edwards are not polarizing figures in the way that Clinton is and probably will never achieve such a level of polarization. But Clinton has been in the public eye for nearly two decades now and from the very start was a person who others quickly formed clear and firm opinions of.
The mistake Klein makes is equating electoral criticism and rhetoric with polarization. Six months from now no one is going to look at Obama and say immediately that, not only do they dislike him, but hate him. Clinton, on the other hand, will always carry that weight. Certainly Obama will suffer from smears and underhanded attacks but nothing about his character causes the gut reaction Clinton does. And while those smears and attacks may hurt his chances for election, they will not lead directly to his garnering a status as a polarizing figure. It's just simple politicking to attack Obama in an attempt to turn people away from him. For Clinton though, those smears and attacks will rely on previous knowledge of her and serve only to reinforce her polarizing stance. It's a subtle difference but it is a difference that a blogger like Klein knows well enough.

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