Q: What are some real similarities and differences between republicans and democrats?
Mickey Edwards (ME): Liberals and conservatives have very similar values--they just put them in a different order. Everybody thinks that economic stability is valuable, [for example]. Economic stability might just be more valuable to one party than the other. For a democrat, equality is at the very top of the list--for a republican, it might be down around third or fourth. So we value the same things, we just see and rank them differently.
What happens in politics is that you never see people outside of their political personas. When you get to know someone personally--if you spend enough time in Washington to, say, have dinner at their homes, then you get to see how we’re all alike as people. If you spend enough time with them, you stop seeing them as cardboard cutouts that represent this idea or that idea, and you start to recognize that ’Wow--these people sit at home worrying about whether or not their kids did their homework, the same as we do.’
Q: What do you think caused the current climate of polarization and partisanship?
ME: You would think that with more networks people would be exposed to more points of view, but it ends up not being like that because people zero in on what they want to hear. Also, we--more and more--have begun to live in districts with people that reflect our views. We move to live near people like us. Districts [tend to be] either heavily democratic or heavily republican, and so we’re divided. That’s polarization, because you never hear any opinions that contradict your own that you think are credible either online or from the people around you.
Also, in America today, the centripetal forces--the forces that hold us together as a people--are weakening. No longer does all of America sit down to watch CBS news on Sunday night, for example. And the centrifugal forces are getting stronger. I’m Jewish, and maybe in the past I might say ’I’m an American who is Jewish,’ and now I’d say ’I’m a Jewish American.’ So those things pull us apart as a people.