Why hardball tactics have led to the most polarized Congress ever

Permanent campaigning divides House and Senate

Pop Quiz: What was the most polarized time in American history?

The Civil War? Prohibition? The Civil Rights Movement?

Nope, no, and nyet. Well, if you gauge polarization by the House and Senate, that is.

Political science professor Sean Theriault tells us that, though the American public has been extremely divided over the course of the nation’s history, today’s Congress is more polarized than at any time before it. Despite the fact that the public is much less so.

Theriault teaches and conducts his research at the University of Texas at Austin, and says that unlike in the past, the current polarization in the House and Senate has little to do with big societal issues, or sea-changes in American culture. The fighting is about something much smaller, more arcane, and frankly, boring: congressional procedure.

The fight, says Theriault, has become “not about the issues but about the war.”

This week on DecodeDC’s podcast, Theriault explains why procedure, and not the big issues, are dividing Congress.

It’s because of the permanent campaign, he says, bringing hardball politics into an institution that used to rely on a basic level of compromise to conduct the day-in, day-out operations of the House and Senate. This is the biggest driver, he says, of the years of gridlock Americans have seen in Washington.

If that makes you angry, says Theriault, don’t blame Congress.

Why? Because we elected them.

Earlier this week, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s historic primary election loss -- the first and only time in America’s history a top GOP leader has lost his primary to a challenger -- provided a perfect example of how divisive hard-ball politics have become. In recent years, Cantor had been a major player in those tactics.

Unfortunately for Cantor, another Republican in his district picked them up too -- and used them against him.

Amarra Ghani contributed to this post.

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