When politicians and their supporters believe the other side is pursuing policies that would destroy all they cherish, compromise becomes not a desirable expedient but "almost treasonous," to use the phrase tossed about by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.
Under these circumstances, taking enormous risks with the country's well-being, as House Republicans did in the debt-ceiling rumble, is no longer out of bounds. It's a form of patriotism. When your adversaries' ideas are so dastardly, it's better to court chaos, win the fight, and pick up the pieces later.
And to make matters worse — and more confusing — the two sides are not equally distant from the political center. We are in an age of asymmetric polarization.
Precisely because they believe in both the government and the marketplace, Democrats are always more ready to compromise. Obama's economic address in September was seen as tough and firm because he finally called Republicans in Congress out. Progressives liked the new fortitude, and also the relatively large sums of money Obama would mobilize to jolt the economy back to vibrancy.
But there was nothing remotely radical (or even particularly liberal) about Obama's ideas: tax cuts, many of them business-friendly, and new spending for such exotic projects as, well, schools and roads. As the president said, his proposals had all drawn Republican support in the past.
He was, however, talking about a Republican Party that existed before it was taken over by a new sensibility linking radical individualism with a loathing for government that would shock Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln and, for goodness' sake, Robert Taft.
... my bumper sticker: Pod People Have Stolen My Party. ... "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm