When Partisanship Warps Our Very Souls By John Zogby
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore is in deep trouble with recent accusations of pedophilia. The wonder is that he is not in deeper trouble. The same polls that show his support in the December 12 runoff evaporating from an 11 point lead to a 4 point deficit following the accusations by women who were only teens when he allegedly abused them, reveal something greatly troubling about our two political parties and how their voters see the world. In the most recent poll, more voters (44 percent) say they are now “more likely” to vote for him than those who say they are “less likely” to do so (37 percent).
To be fair, Alabama conservatives and Republicans are certainly not endorsing his alleged behavior. But they do seem to be rallying to his being victimized by the press, Democrats, the networks, the Washington Post (which broke the story), by the liberal Eastern Establishment. It is purely partisan selective moral outrage.
This is not new. We saw staunch defenders of President Richard Nixon until evidence made any defense completely untenable – as in tapes with his unmistakable guilty voice ordering a cover-up of the Watergate scandal. We saw it when Time magazine printed excerpts of Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot, about the immoral behavior of President John F. Kennedy. The following week’s issue of the magazine printed two full pages of letters all essentially saying the same thing – “leave him alone, he inspired us.”
But things got decidedly worse during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. Majorities of Americans never really endorsed the idea of the nation’s CEO having sex with an intern, and they were clear in my polls that they would not hire Mr. Clinton to babysit for them nor go out with their with their daughters. But the partisan divide over his impeachment was deeply dismaying.
Dennis Duggan, the late Irish Catholic writer who spent five decades as a reporter and columnist for several New York newspapers, called me one day during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and told me he had just run into a nun with whom he had gone to school who told him, “so what if the President wants to get (oral sex) in the White House.” She also told him that Nixon was indeed a “crook.” In other words, bad behavior is okay if my guy is doing it. There are millions of excuses. It is heinous if someone from the other side is doing it.
There is something really deep going on here. I used to be able to ask a simple question about whether or not thing’s in the country “are headed in the right direction or are off on the wrong track.” It always gave me (and other pollsters) a good barometric reading on a sitting President. By the time President Barack Obama ascended to office in 2009, the question had become worthless. Democrats were far more likely to say things were fine, while Republicans saw things going to hell in a hand basket.
It was pretty much the same thing with simple questions like whether or not voters saw themselves as “better off or worse off” than they were four years ago or if they believed their children would be “better off or worse off” than themselves. These questions became worthless among partisans. They were no longer producing results on the merits of the question.
We see lots of evidence of a breakdown of our two parties, and I have written a lot about the reasons. They are less seen as problem-solvers and more so as problem creators. The more they have become simply ideological, the less they are seen as realistic.
But the problem is as much one that is our fault as we see our world only through the lenses of rigid ideologies. For starters, we have to stop being outraged only by the other guy’s behavior. Our guy may be just as awful.
John Zogby (@TheJohnZogby) is the founder of the Zogby Poll and Zogby companies, including John Zogby Strategies, and author of We Are Many We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in the 21st Century America.