Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Norm Ornstein: Our political parties are not only polarized, they are ‘tribalized’

Norman Ornstein
American Enterprise Institute
Norman Ornstein

A couple of weeks ago, political scientist Norm Ornstein helped me understand (here and then again here) the dynamics of the meltdown of the Republican caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, which led to the retirement of Speaker John Boehner, then the collapse of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid to replace Boehner, and the ascendancy of the hard-right Freedom Caucus to a key role in the picture.

So naturally, when the House speakership crisis settled down with the election of Paul Ryan and when Boehner arranged as a parting gift to arrange a two-year budget deal, I wondered whether Ornstein saw things headed in a healthier direction, gridlock-and-dysfunction-wise.

The answer is no.

In a talk Monday at the University of Minnesota’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, native Minnesotan Ornstein, co-author of the recent book-length analysis of the recent years of gridlock, titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” joked that the tentative title of the sequel on which he is working is “It’s Even Worse Than It Was When We Told You It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.”

Ornstein’s whole presentation was likewise tragicomic. I was impressed with how many jokes he told before he got into his serious analysis (and I’ll transcribe a few of the jokes at the end of this post), but the jokes were also pretty depressing if you looked at the meaning behind the punchlines.

Ornstein doesn’t think the election of Ryan solved anything. When asked by moderator Larry Jacobs to give a straight yes or no answer to the question of whether the Ryan speakership will be devoured by the same forces that devoured Boehner’s, Ornstein chose “yes.”

The core problem, Ornstein said (and you may note a similarity to some of my own earlier analysis), is that American politics is suffering from “a mismatch between our political parties and our system.”

In a parliamentary system, after an election, one party (or a coalition of parties) gains a majority and has enough control to implement its policy preferences without the need for any cooperation from the opposition.

Unlike in America, the term “the government” refers to the majority party or coalition. It does not refer to the members of the other parties.They are referred to as “the opposition” and are free to oppose and criticize whatever the government is doing and propose different policies that they would implement if they were in power, but they lack the leverage to prevent the majority from implementing its program. Eventually, the electorate will get a chance to decide whether to make the opposition into the government and vice versa.

But, of course, in our country, power is generally (and is now) divided between houses and branches. A party that controls just one house of Congress or the White House can block the other party from enacting its programs. And vice versa.

Different times

Ornstein talked about previous eras, when government functioned in the United States even if neither party controlled the all the levers of power. He reminisced about the famous odd couple of U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, who were from opposite parties and disagreed on most matters but were able, via give and take, to work together to craft many bills that became law. He spoke about former Rep. Henry Waxman, a liberal Democrat from California and an expert on health policy who served for 40 years, many of them when the House was under Republican control. But Waxman was respected, and he knew how to get small gains for the policies he believed in tucked into bills that had the support of most Republicans and, by the time he retired, could point to many provisions he had fathered because he knew how to settle for half a loaf, or a quarter of a loaf, and knew how to choose which quarter-loaf that he favored to settle for because it wasn’t anathema to the other side.

Now, Ornstein said, the parties are not only polarized, they are “tribalized.” Both parties suffer from this, he said, but the tribal instinct is considerably stronger on the Republican side. Tribalization, as Ornstein described, means that the other “tribe” is treated as an enemy, to be denied any concessions and it’s enough to know that an idea must be bad if it is backed by the other tribe, which Ornstein translates into “if you’re for it, I’m against it, even if I was for it yesterday.”

It’s gotten so bad, Ornstein says, that he believes that if not for Boehner’s secretly negotiated budget deal, the Republican hard-liners would have been unable to compromise on a deal to keep the government open and — even scarier — preserve the credit rating of the U.S. government by raising the debt ceiling.

By the way, that deal passed with the support of all Democrats but just 79 of the 247 Republicans in the U.S. House. The so-called “Hastert rule” holds that a Republican speaker won’t allow anything to come to the House floor unless it has the support of at least a majority of House Republicans. Although it’s called a “rule,” it really hasn’t been one; more of an informal rule of thumb. But, as one of the concessions to the hard-liners, Paul Ryan has agreed to make it an actual enforceable rule. At least Ornstein said he had, and if that’s true, it’s one less way to break a deadlock. When he was asked on one of the Sunday shows last weekend whether he would enforce the Hastert rule, he replied: “There are always exceptions to the rules. And, when circumstances dictate, we have to look at all options available.” (I’m not sure where that leaves things.)

Also by the way, notwithstanding Boehner’s secret deal, Ornstein said Monday that action is still needed to extend the Continuing Resolution under which the government has been allowed to pay bills without a real budget. Without such action, Ornstein said, the continuing resolution expires Dec. 11.

Race for president

On the presidential race, Ornstein said that notwithstanding a long-running assurance from the punditocracy that, in the end, the Republicans will end up with a reasonably mainstream nominee who has some experience in government, he is not convinced.

In current polls, if you combine the support of all the “outsiders,” it comes to 65-75 percent of likely Republican primary voters. If you combine the so-called mainstream candidates, it’s generally less than 20 percent.

He also cited a recent Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers that asked Republicans what they liked about Ben Carson: 43 percent said they liked that Carson had no foreign policy experience; 78 percent said they liked that he said that if Jews had had guns there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust; 80 percent said they liked that he said that Obamacare was the worst thing that had happened to the country since slavery.

These are the kinds of things that feed Ornstein’s continuing argument that the polarization has not occurred evenly across the two major parties. He wrote in “It’s Even Worse than It Looks,” and he said again Monday, that in his early days in Washington, both parties operated ideologically between the 40-yard-lines. Both have moved farther to the extremes of the field, he said. But the Democrats are “around their 20-yard line,” while the Republicans “are well behind their own end zone — and quite a few of them are out in the parking lot.”

OK, perhaps that’s a good place to deliver those jokes I promised at the top and wrap this puppy up. Here are three one-liners that he fired off — Henny Youngman-like — before he started his main presentation:

  • Before long, Donald Trump will leave for a younger country.
  • If you watched the Republican debate the other night, the Republican Party’s new slogan might be “No Child Left Awake.”
  • “If Carly Fiorina really wants to destroy Planned Parenthood, she should become its CEO.”


Comments (52)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/03/2015 - 09:24 am.

    Polarization would be an improvement

    It implies that both parties have some central set of positions (‘poles’) anchoring their political choices.
    It’s clear that the Republicans have no such center point. The only question is whether they will find one, or self destruct on the national level.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/03/2015 - 09:55 am.

    It is clear from the recent debate boycott that the Republican party is increasingly separate from the candidates that are running under their banner. The rightward drift of the people who vote “Republican” has been managed by the relentless propaganda of a powerful media force that has found that the more that “wolf” is cried, the bigger and badder “wolf” must be the character in the next warning.

  3. Submitted by David Broden on 11/03/2015 - 11:24 am.

    Polarization, Fractionalizing, Tribal or Info Overload??

    The evolution of public policy interest by US citizens seems to have moved to dysfunctional level as we listen to the parties, the media, and our fellow citizens. We blame the parties, the media, the candidates and other forces but have we looked at how the public policy discussion process has changed in the past 10-15 years–Significantly!!. Why the change– we all have opinions and most ideas addressed make some sense. Lets consider perhaps the largest change– we gather, collect,,or absorb information much differently today than in the past– Social Media and related media provide instant info much of which is without thought or process and everyone tries to get on board with the “noise” that this communication provides– policy and ideas used to evolve with some debate but now we are open ended in most dialogue. The result is that we try to make sense out of info only not processed info and thus no real sorting or leadership. This is simply a very open democratic process – but we are structure as a republic — representative government that asks for reasoned thought to make decision. Our elected officals and all of us are consumed by the rapid and quantity of information- it will take time to evolve how we can govern in the world of the speed of info– rethink how the public polcy of the US works or should work today is the first step to resolution for both parties and all citizens.

    Dave Broden

    • Submitted by Kurt Anderson on 11/03/2015 - 03:10 pm.

      Or maybe not enough representative government?

      I trace a lot of the bitterness back to our 43-year habit of inventing constitutional rights, with little support in text or precedent, that preempt legislative or other democratic choices — and often abort positive political trends. The Courts have veered left (abortion, gay marriage) and right (campaign finance, nullification of preclearance under voting rights act, stopping a presidential vote count) to impose their political preferences in lieu of letting the democratic process run its course. I submit that as frustrating as it may be, we will get better discernment from our 7000+ state legislators, acting in 50 separate jurisdictions, than from nine black-robed platonic dictators who currently represent the sensibilities of two law schools.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/03/2015 - 06:49 pm.

        We tried that

        The Articles of Confederation were based on the assumption that a confederation of 13 independent states could be governed primarily by their individual legislatures.
        Its failure led to the Constitution of the United States forming a federal union.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2015 - 11:36 am.

    False equivalence… again

    I don’t know why guys Orenstein can’t just admit that one of our two parties has collapsed into a reactionary miasma. We have one and only one party that has shut down and threatened to shut down the government in the last four decades yet we’re told the “both”parties are equally responsible.

    Nothing the democrats have ever done approaches the disfunction and irresponsibility of endless Benghazi hearings, single issue obsessions, magical thinking, and multiple meaningless votes flowing out of the republican party for almost two decades now.

    Obviously Ryan is no solution, he’s just a daft as the rest of them.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/03/2015 - 11:41 am.

    Oh please

    The “extremism” in the republican party is from those who are horrified by a $19 trillion national debt … a debt that was incurred by “moderates” who “back in the good old days” split the difference between exorbitant spending bill #1 versus exorbitant spending bill #2. Boehner’s outrageous two-year budget deal with Obama only infuriates us further which is why he’s slinking out of town persona non grata.

    The much maligned TEA party takes their name from the complaint that we’re “taxed enough already” opposing those politicians who intend to keep spending and who will then have to raise taxes to pay for it all. Real radical stuff.

    Meanwhile, those oh so moderate democrats, who are just trying to pull the republicans toward some semblance of moderation, are running a card-carrying socialist for president and no one seems to notice or care that his political philosophy is not only radical, it’s the very antithesis of a free society of the type this nation was founded upon. And Hillary Clinton is following him around trying to up the ante on all his giveaway schemes.

    Ornstein and his ilk have been so compromised by the old boys network that they can’t even see the irony in their ridiculous charges against the conservative wing of the republican party, the last sane tribe amongst us.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/03/2015 - 04:27 pm.

      The absolute amount of that debt

      Is totally the result of the stupidity of the Iraq war, the lies of that war, the zero funding of the prescription drug program and the Bush bailout of wall street. Try for once Tester to understand the truth of the history of your historic conservative joke, including for profit “education” .

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/04/2015 - 07:52 am.


      Inter Office Memo
      To: Dennis Tester
      Fr: VP Cheney

      Dennis: Deficits do not matter, Regan taught us that. Please follow the party line.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/05/2015 - 09:42 am.

        Debt vs. Deficit

        Which one are you talking about?
        They’re not the same thing.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/05/2015 - 12:51 pm.


          I am just quoting the right’s all time favorite VP Dick Cheney. And he did say: “Deficits don’t matter, Reagan proved that”. So if you would like to stretch that into “Deficit’s don’t matter, but the debt is a big deal” you will fit nicely into the fact free, fantasy world of GOP group think.

  6. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 11/03/2015 - 12:08 pm.

    Parliamentary Rule

    Ornstein minimized the “fringe” aspect on parliamentary rule. Often, to gain a majority, the “almost” majority party needs support from a small faction that, as a result, has bargaining power far beyond what it’s numbers would suggest.

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/03/2015 - 12:33 pm.

    Once again

    …my thanks to Mr. Tester for providing us with a fine example of the “reactionary miasma” noted by Paul Udstrand. Socialist democracies around the world are generally providing more equity in standard of living, better health care and longer lifespans than our 18th century government is able to provide since being taken over by plutocrats, and they do it without, in general, sending their own young men and women overseas to die at the hands of fanatics. In those industrialized countries, the governments function more efficiently and equitably than ours – by design, of course – and while I’ve not been to Europe recently, I’m told by friends who’ve been able to afford the trip that Europeans, who have demonstrated just as much patriotism toward their own national cultures as we have for ours, seem uninterested in theocracy – specifically Christian theocracy – as a form of government. They’ve already tried it, repeatedly, and found it incompatible with the sort of freedom that Mr. Tester likes to cite. Instead of “…last sane tribe amongst us,” I’d suggest that, in the name of accuracy, Mr. Tester’s last phrase be altered by a single letter to read, “…least sane tribe amongst us.”

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/04/2015 - 08:02 am.

      I shouldn’t have to remind a school teacher about this

      But it’s not the role of the federal government to ensure equity. It’s the role of the federal government to ensure your freedom.

      Thanks for providing an example of why our kids think we live in a giant collective.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/04/2015 - 09:26 am.

        And Thank YOU

        For reinforcing the point of the article about “tribalization” of our political process. When there is only one way, one correct ideology, and one correct line of policy, the result is a a system and, ultimately, a nation that is deeply divided against itself.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/04/2015 - 09:49 am.

        It’s the role of the federal government

        to provide for the general welfare (not just the welfare of some of the people).
        Read the Constitution, starting with the Preamble.
        The word ‘freedom’ appears only in the 1st Amendment in the context of freedom of speech.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/04/2015 - 04:40 pm.


        Beware of “card carrying socialists” Tester tells us. I have yet to hear Sanders plan to nationalize Apple or GM. Sanders most resembles the last President who did give an outright increase to Social Security. From the signing statement:

        “SINCE THIS Administration took office, social security benefits have increased by more than 50 percent, and several major reforms have been made in the Social Security System.

        I am pleased to have signed legislation which further contributes to these improvements. It is H.R. 7445, a bill which amends the social security and Federal income maintenance programs while also extending the Renegotiation Act of 1951
        for one year.

        The critical feature of this bill for almost 30 million Americans is an increase in social security benefits of more than 5 percent next year in order to meet the rising costs of living.

        I have long held that social security cannot contribute to genuine financial security until it provides an automatic means of compensating for cost-of-living increases. Last year, when social security increases of some 20 percent were enacted, the Congress approved my proposal providing for an escalator in benefits so that recipients will automatically be protected against inflation.”

        Yes, Mr. Tester, Bernie Sanders is building on the socialist legacy of…..

        Richard Nixon.

  8. Submitted by Bill Willy on 11/03/2015 - 01:05 pm.

    Where are the psychiatrists?

    “43 percent said they liked that Carson had no foreign policy experience; 78 percent said they liked that he said that if Jews had had guns there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust; 80 percent said they liked that he said that Obamacare was the worst thing that had happened to the country since slavery.”

    Although it strikes me as “peculiar” and disappointing, I’m guessing the concept of “journalistic neutrality” is what keeps almost anyone in “mainstream media” from pointing out the obvious (that Paul U. made clear).

    And even though it’s just one example of the type of thing that “flows out of the heart of the contemporary conservative Republican ideology,” that little paragraph ought be sending up red flags as visible as a fleet of Goodyear blimps and MAYbe (just maybe) compelling enough to cause one or two “reputable psychoanalysts” to come out of the shadows to pipe up and provide a “considered opinion” or two on what that kind of thing MAY say about what MAY be an increasingly widespread epidemic of mental illness sweeping through big parts of America.

    In other words, “Where’s Carl Jung when you need him?” Not saying it is (or isn’t), or could get, as bad (the hope, for many, is it will destroy itself), but if you go to the page linked below and read the two paragraphs that start with, “Jung’s intuition was no less impressive about collective situations” (sixth paragraph), it explains a lot about why I say I’d be so interested in hearing what a few “psychological scientists” have to say about their impressions of our current political situation in general, and more than a little interested in knowing what they make of that “contemporary conservative Republican ideology” in particular:

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/03/2015 - 06:58 pm.

      It’s not a question of mental illness

      I’m not sure where the psychiatrists are (hiding under their couches?), and psychoanalysts are not necessarily either psychologists or psychiatrists.
      For a more current view than Jung, you might check out what behavioral economists such as Cass Sunstein say about human motivations and governance.
      That’s the word from this professional psychologist. The fact that people do dumb things does not mean that they are mentally disturbed; just that they are acting on some basic assumptions that may or may not be based in reality as you see it, and draw conclusions based on their experience, which is not the same as yours.

  9. Submitted by David Broden on 11/03/2015 - 01:44 pm.

    Don’t Just React to Instant Info–Think–Reason and then Project

    In my first blog statement above there was emphasis on how the political process public policy dialogue has change due to the way we all process info– again I will state we are all part of the problem –we want to react rather than absorb— understand- reason- measure a response- and then express a sound statement with substance on a topic– I know it sounds trivial but in the world of instant messages and multiple instant interpretations we need a bit more reflection on what is really important — sometimes slow is better than instantaneous–a full open all expressing the views they see is not as valuable as a thoughtful republic representative democray approach-caos can occur quickly– progress takes time and reason. Read my first blog above and then this again and respond. We need people who want to make the system work in the information age.— I think we an with a bit of patience.

    dave Broden

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/03/2015 - 03:28 pm.


      The “world of instant messages and multiple instant interpretations” makes this distinction more important than ever: “information,” while a crucial ingredient, is NOT synonymous with “knowledge.” The latter requires, as you’ve suggested, reflection and thought, which takes at least a bit of time.

  10. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 11/03/2015 - 04:20 pm.

    Let’s all come back here a year from tommorow…

    …and see which “tribe” gets to claim the Big Chief’s chair.

  11. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/03/2015 - 07:16 pm.

    The TEA party has always had an out-sized budget and media attention. But we all know the unhappy fate of the third party in a 2 party system.

    So let us consider the fact that the strategy to avoid the third party dead-end would be to convert the second party into the third party.

    That is the process of today.

    Big money funding the repetition of all sorts of bizarre theories–pushing those who pride themselves in being “independent, free-thinking patriots” down the propaganda road. Until they only believe their own special sources.

    How else can you get the dismantling of a government that had begun to act as the protector of the little against the big.?

    Patriotism, The last refuge of scoundrels. Use it to take down regulations, pollution control, taxes, worker protections, etc.

    That is the goal of today.

  12. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/04/2015 - 09:22 am.

    As A Fomer Pastor

    who did a great deal of counseling in my years in ministry,…

    and who did a great deal of study in psychology to support that work,…

    my take on what’s going on with the Radical Reactionary Republican “tribe,”…

    is that they daily gather around the fire,…

    and are constantly hypnotized by the drumbeat provided them by denizens of weasel news.

    Many of the folk raised in overly-rigid families,…

    who withhold love for children who do not conform to their parent’s ideas,…

    especially ideas regarding the nature of “men” and “women” (strictly by the old stereotypes),…

    move into their lives with any nonconforming pieces of their personalities,…

    generally the ability to experience or express empathy and compassion,…

    beaten (literally or figuratively) out of them.

    Many of them have also had the ability to make their own choices and take responsibility for those choices beaten out of the them,…

    which leaves them forever wanting to make up that deficit by relating to someone or something with the kind of powerful independence they lack:…

    the strongest possible authority figure (which is why they love Trump).

    Their inability to imagine what it would be like to be anyone other than themselves makes them VERY susceptible to xenophobia,…

    the idea that others are NOT like them, and, therefore, dangerous.

    This coupled with their inability to take responsibility for the results of their own choices make them VERY susceptible to scapegoating anyone they regard as “the other,”…

    to blaming anyone who is not like them or who disagrees with them,…

    on issues the “authorities” they trust have told them are important,…

    (which those authorities require agreement on by threatening to disown as “not one of us” any followers who disagree).

    The denizens of weasel news are (consciously or unconsciously, I’m not sure) able to grab the people who share these dysfunctions,…

    amplify their doubts, fears, and discomfort,…

    tell them they’re right about everything,…

    addict them to watching because the weasel is the ONLY place in the world that never makes them uncomfortable,…

    then manipulate the heck out of them by feeding them false information that fits into what they want to believe, but moves them farther and farther away from reality.

    The mainstream media is not blameless, of course,…

    since those employed in it know very well who signs their paychecks,…

    and what it would likely cost them to challenge a wide variety of false-but-widely-accepted ideas favored by the top 1%; ideas central to conservative orthodoxy,…

    especially in the area of economics.

    The MSM also allows the weasel to call the tune in a wide variety of reporting areas.

    But I strongly believe that if the weasel were to go dark for even a month,…

    the Republican “base” would shrink,…

    and those who remained would gradually come back to better connection with reality.

    The devolving “conservative” “tribe” which even the GOP is finding it difficult to wrangle into serving any useful function,…

    even for the members of that tribe, itself, let alone the party as a whole or the nation we share,…

    is ENTIRELY an addictive and toxic creation of weasel news and conservative talk radio.

  13. Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/04/2015 - 09:52 am.

    The stakes

    This is all about what is at stake. Because there are no longer any restrictions on government power the positions that manipulate that power become invaluable. When so much is in the line it the finalization is inevitable. The parliamentary system common in Europe might reflect variations in affiliation more granularity but it would be hard to argue that the outcomes are better. Higher structural unemployment, lower median incomes, lower productivity are the flip side to more equitable distribution of wealth. More equitable isn’t as appealing when the mean income goes down.

    The only way to reduce the level of rancor and corruption is to reduce the value of elected positions. That was one benefit to a very limited federal government. One that had the bare minimum of authority required to keep the states together and provide defense both of the borders and the rights of citizens. As those limits have been dismantled the uses of tribalization and corruption have become more accute and damaging. The primary manifestation of this is our constant state of war and wasteful defense spending. The same system that created the military industrial complex and militarization of local police forces has the same corrupting effect on everything it touches. There is no reason to think it wouldn’t other than the afore mentioned tribalization. People tend to believe the narrative of the tribe with which they identify.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/04/2015 - 04:49 pm.

      As stated previously

      Been there, done that, (the Articles), miserable failure that nearly lead to the breakup of the union. I’ll give you credit, most conservatives only want to turn back the clock back to the turn of the 20th century, you’re looking to head back to the 18th!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/05/2015 - 12:13 pm.

      See, this the problem

      “This is all about what is at stake. Because there are no longer any restrictions on government power the positions that manipulate that power become invaluable.”

      I’m not trying to insult anyone but this statement is very nearly delusional. This belief that we’ve descended into some kind of tyrannical regime that’s out of control is simply absurd. If anything our government is more hobbled by partisanship than ever. How can a government that can barely stay open and agree on a budget be an unrestricted tyrant? We have a perfectly good constitution that has met all challenges with flying colors for over 200 years and that constitution is still functioning. American have more rights and access to legal redress than ever before. It ain’t perfect but the historical trend is a clear expansion of civil rights and equal access under the law and courts.

  14. Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/05/2015 - 04:14 pm.

    What were you reading?

    No where in my comment did I use the word tyranny nor did I imply it. I think the tribalism delusion that this article is really about has effected your thinking. What I was trying to present was the fact that there is no activity that is beyond the reach of direct government influence. The idea of the constitution as a living document and open to interpretation eliminates it as a real check on government power. If you can imagine on thing that it would not be possible to regulate or tax let me know. Unlimited power by government does not necessarily mean tyranny, especially in the tribalist atmosphere where there is a constant struggle between parties keeps any one entity from grabbing hold. Nor does it mean that the power is always used in a negative way. It does mean however that the original intent of the constitution is not longer in effect, that the federal government had limited powers which were fairly clearly indicated.

    I don’t have any nostalgia for the constitution as written or the people who rote it but believe that when looking back at history it is important to not be a strict linear thinker. Some changes are good and others aren’t and they don’t come in strict packages based on the situations at hand 50, 100 or 1000 years ago. Democracies, republics and other forms of government have come and gone over the millennia but because most have failed at some point doesn’t prove that every facet of their structure was poorly conceived.

    I would also strongly disagree that we have “more rights” now than we have had previously. But that might be accounted for by what is often at the foundation of these types of disagreements. That is whether someone believes rights come from government or nature. I believe there are natural rights and that the idea of positive rights are nonsensical. That we all possess the same rights and the primary purpose in government is to protect the rights of its citizens. It might be able to do more but can’t in taking on more devalue its primary role.

    Since the founding of this country it has done a poor job of doing that for most of the population. Typically based on gender, sexual orientation and racial identity. The work of fixing that has taken far too long and been wholly inconsistent. Often because the violations of those rights exist primarily in government policies and those in power use them for their own advantage. That doesn’t however mean that I agree that all other change in government has been positive. The universe isn’t simple and we must be open to complex answers.

    The article was about tribalism and the two responses to my post were so blatantly indicative of the thinking and not in response to the particular points I made. It seems indicative to how hard it is to get people to put down their own prejudice and deal with the reality that faces them.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/06/2015 - 11:13 am.

      Again the problem…

      “I would also strongly disagree that we have “more rights” now than we have had previously.”

      Yes, Americans were much much more “free” in the 50s under Jim Crow when racial and sex discrimination were perfectly legal. And in the 1920’s when we had no labor rights and children could be forced to work 13 hour days instead of going to school, and when women had no right to vote, and then of course the biggest blow to individual liberty in the history of the country was that damn Civil War that ended slavery!

      I’m sorry but this idea what we’ve been losing freedoms is completely at odds with the historical record, that is simply a fact. The fact that you live in a society with other people who deserve consideration and are entitled to some equality does not make you a victim of government oppression, nor does the fact that you may have to share some of your privilege with your fellow citizens.

      And by the way, the idea that somehow these expansions of rights and privilege are violations of the US Constitution is simply incoherent. “Originalism” is little more than fantasy pretending to be legitimate legal theory or historical expertise.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 11/07/2015 - 09:53 am.

        Read what was written

        Unfortunately you don’t seem able to read what was written or are wiling to simply ignore it in order to continue using the cliched responses which attributed to one tribe or another. I stated very clearly that there are many cases where we are much better at protecting rights now than we had been in the past.

        The worst of those past sins are based on active government based discrimination. Slavery, Jim Crow, anti-woman suffrage, and the hundreds of laws that discriminated agains, Irish, Italian, Hispanic, homosexual and were put in place by government, not in-spite of it. More recently the fact that the federal government helped import and distribute cocaine in inner cities is a core driver of the unconscionably high incarceration of black men. Add to that the disaster that was the public housing policies in the early 60s that relegated tens if not hundreds of thousands of mostly black citizens into high crime housing blocks like Cabrini-Green. Layer on top of that the fact that a strong federal government is responsible for the deaths of millions of people in wars of aggression during the “progressive era” starting with Teddy R’s incursion in to Central America to Viet Nam to the various forays in to the the Middle East.

        State sponsored discrimination and war did damage wide and deep and continues to negatively impact generations of people not just this country but those across the globe that have felt the influence of our democracy. The fact the people in charge were elected doesn’t make what happened any less reprehensible. All this because of the idea that the foundational rules by which we live are infinitely flexible based on interpretation (despite the fact there was a amendment method included in the text), that being elected gives righteousness to power and that they should be bent so the power of the state can be used to sculpt society and that individual rights are trumped by the “greater good”.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/09/2015 - 06:55 am.


          Many here find the gray zone that is reality very threatening for some reason.

          I think what you have said is that government can be good or bad depending on how it is operated and by who. And the more power we give to the politicians that are located far from us citizens, the more likely it is that groups of bureaucrats and/or politicians will use it for their own benefit rather than society’s. Finally, the greater the ability for them to do that, the greater the drive for people to seek those positions.

          I am not sure why people disagree with this simple logic. Some folks seem to think that those millions of bureaucrats and public employees are pure of heart and there to serve us citizens. When in reality they are just humans who can be interested in empire building, better paychecks, more job security, pursuing their own agenda, etc like the rest of us. Of course the challenge is that we tax payers are paying for their excesses.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/09/2015 - 11:29 am.

            If this is the case…

            “I think what you have said is that government can be good or bad depending on how it is operated and by who.”

            If this is really what Dan is saying it’s a mundane observation pretending to a civics lesson. The fact that freedom requires vigilance is an elementary principle of liberal democracies.

            We’re not talking about a theoretical government, we’re talking about our government and it’s REAL history.

            But I don’t see Dan making elementary generalizations, this is what Dan is saying… literally:

            “Because there are no longer any restrictions on government power the positions that manipulate that power become invaluable.”

            Here he is saying that our government is no longer subject to any restrictions, not that it may or may not be subject to restrictions. And by the way, an unrestricted government is the very definition of a tyrannical government, so yes, Dan is claiming that we’ve descended into tyranny, he’s not warning that we “could” descend into tyranny, he’s claiming we’ve done so, or that we are in the process of doing so.

            Then Dan goes on to say:

            “”I would also strongly disagree that we have “more rights” now than we have had previously.”

            When I point out the fact that this is historically backwards Dan responds with a list… of injustices that have been reconciled, thus acknowledging my point but pretending that I’m not reading what he’s writing. Again the general observation that governments CAN be oppressive is irrelevant and elementary. The actual historical record of government oppression in the United States is one of diminishing oppression’s, not increased oppression. History simply contradicts the “strongly’ held belief that we have fewer rights now than previously.

            I keep providing direct quotes and he keeps accusing me of not reading what he’s saying. Basically he keeps saying things and then denying that he’s said them.

            Now it’s not just Dan, I’ve seen all these claims before, they’re standard features of the Libertarian narrative. My point is that the Libertarian narrative is fundamentally incoherent, and you can see that in this discussion. The problem with the Libertarian narrative is that its basic premise (that we live in an era of increasing government oppression) is irreconcilable with the actual historical record. Even the idea that we live in a era of increasing “risk” of oppression is irreconcilable with recent history. This leaves us a Libertarian narrative that is little more than hysterical dystopian fantasy. Sure governments can be oppressive… but ours isn’t.

            The other problem with the Libertarian narrative is that it essentially rejects the notion of democracy while claiming to be a product of the US Constitution that created our liberal democracy. In fact, guys like Dan don’t even to seem recognize the fact that they live in a democracy (remember, we have a government without limits). For libertarians, social and political obligations are threats to individual “liberty”, hence citizenship itself get transformed into a confrontation with oppression. Our Constitution was deliberately designed to define a society capable of collective action that minimizes social and individual tensions and conflicts by giving everyone recourse to the law. Unfortunately for Libertarians having recourse to the law also means we have to submit the law, and that essentially put Libertarians into another irreconcilable conflict, this time with the notion of democracy and the Constitution itself.

            At the end of the day it’s really very simple, it’s not about logic or principles or potentials; how come it is in all these lengthy comments about our diminishing freedoms you guys haven’t once described even ONE of the freedoms you think you’ve lost in the 40 years? If you really strongly believe you have fewer freedoms why don’t give us a list of 3 “freedoms” you think you’ve lost?

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 08:19 am.

              3 Freedoms Lost

              Freedom to receive and invest ~15.5% of the compensation I earn in my own savings and insurance plan.

              Freedom for the citizens of a state to define what marriage is.

              Freedom to pursue many carreers or open many businesses without an spending and excessive amount of time on licenses, bureaucracies, etc.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2015 - 10:40 am.


                I meant “real” freedoms.

                You’re free invest as much as you want in your own savings and insurance plans, so I assume you’re just complaining about having to pay taxes again. The only problem with that complaint is that you’re paying LESS taxes now than you would have in the 80s, so you’ve gain more tax freedom than you’ve lost.

                Citizens of this state didn’t lose the right to define marriage, they gained it. You may have lost the right to deny that freedom to anyone who doesn’t agree with your definition, but that was never a actually a “freedom”, it was a toxic privilege.

                Finally, the fact that you’re not allowed to conduct criminal businesses, dump toxins into your community, abuse employees, and violate basic civil rights at will…. doesn’t make you victim of oppression, it simply reflects the fact that you live and do business in a society and have to abide by our laws.

                Not to be insulting but the truth is, this list of lost “freedoms” illustrates yet another ironic flaw with the libertarian mentality… it actually has no coherent or workable concept of “freedom” or “liberty” beyond being allowed to do whatever you want to do. With the exception tax complaints this isn’t a list of “freedoms” its a list of toxic behavior that’s been restricted.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/10/2015 - 10:51 am.


                1. Taxes are the cost of membership (citizenship), whether you pay for it through FICA, tying the costs to your person, or by paying for the care of the desititute after the fact, the money would still be gone. The only way this would not be the case would be to cut out the social safety net entirely, a morally reprehensible aim. 2. No citizen ever lawfully had the right to abrogate another citizen’s civil liberties, regardless which state in which they reside. That the courts took too long to affirm this fact does not change its veracity. 3. Society (ie the government) has every right to protect itself from harm due to the incompetence or malfeasance of its citizens. Requiring proof of competence (licensure), and protection from harm (regulation), in no way infringes upon anyone’s right to conduct themselves in a lawful manner whilst operating their business. That anyone would find such onerous speaks volumes about their true motivations.

                • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2015 - 11:48 am.


                  Absolutely Matt. And this is the thing, when it comes right down to it these champions of our liberties and downtrodden victims of government assaults can’t really describe any actual “freedoms’ they’re losing. Whenever asked they just produce a list of complaints and don’t seem to even realize the difference… which is kind of ironic in a way.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 12:56 pm.

                  Difference of Opinion

                  1. Before FICA, people were free to use that money as they wished. Be it spending, investing or charity. Now they can not, it must go into Trust Funds which are invested in Government Bonds and then the government decides how much one gets back. I actually support FICA because without it too many people whould spend rather than save/invest and give to charity. Even so, it is a lost personal freedom.

                  2. Please remember how close that SCOTUS vote was. Many citizens disagree with your interpretation of reality. As usual… Does anyone have any new scientific data that shows LGBT to be “state of being” and not a behaviorial choice?

                  3. Somehow we apparently got by with less expensive licensing for almost 200 years. I am sure happy the person who cuts my hair needs a license… 🙂 And don’t forget the Teacher License fight that is ongoing.

                  Sean and I often argue about this. He believes that the requirements to be a Doctor / Nurse are unnecessarily intense in order to keep low cost foreign qualified personnel out of American Healthcare. (ie keep cost high) He supports simplifying the process for these professionals, however he supports keeping the Teacher’s license hoops which I feel are there to keep Teacher costs high.

                  If you don’t see many of the license, regulations and oversite as expensive and somewhat pointless… You must not have dealt much with them. My wife’s business requires regular visits from a licensor, it is amazing what they look for… (ie forms filled out, training completed that does not apply to her clientele, etc)

                  • Submitted by Sean Olsen on 11/10/2015 - 01:08 pm.

                    Get your own words, please

                    I have not argued in opposition to teacher license portability, so don’t speak for me when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 02:50 pm.

                      My Apologies

                      I must have misunderstood your pro-Union / anti-Doctors stance.

                      You know my view. I see licensing as important when it comes to life and death topics. (ie Doctors, Nurses, Certain Engineers, etc) Otherwise I think most of the licensing is there as a barrier to entry, to protect jobs, to keep incomes artificially high, etc.

                      I am not sure why the schools can not be responsible for hiring qualified Teachers. (ie clean background check, correct education/experience, etc) Instead the bureaucrats and unions work hard to slow down entry to increase costs and create manufactured shortages.

                    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 11/10/2015 - 05:42 pm.

                      So just to be clear

                      Day care providers, literally responsible for the life and health of OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN, cannot handle the inconvienence of filling out paperwork. Umm sure.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 11:33 pm.

                      Relative Importance

                      I could think of better things to check for… More pointless bureaucratic silliness is the training requirement. Especially if you operate a pre k with no infants/ toddlers and no car transport.

                      “Each year monitored must now have completed 16 hours of annual training.
                      Annual training must include:
                      Child Growth & Development/Behavior Guidance (every year)
                      Supervising for Safety (2 hours each year)
                      CPR (every 2 years) First Aid (every 2 years)
                      SUID/AHT (every 2 years, videos on off year)
                      Child Passenger Restraint (every 5 years)”

                      Please note that SUID/AHT is required more often than CPR… Like any qualified provider is going to forget that content. Oh well… Just check the boxes an write the checks… The problem is that government license workers don’t get to think, they have to follow the same criteria whether the candidate has a Masters in Early Childhood Education or is a first time Mom who just wants some extra money. The joy of bureaucrats…

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2015 - 10:32 am.


    If and when I vote for democrats its not because I belong to a “tribe” of any kind, it’s because I don’t believe magic, and that’s all republican candidate have to offer. I mean do you seriously think that Americans will refuse to vote a clown like Trump because of “tribalism”?

    Since when are intelligent human beings with a modicum of common sense are a “tribe” of some kind? Whatever.

    Listen, here’s what’s happening: Despite electoral surges here and there the republican party is exploding. You can’t offer nothing but magical thinking and sociopaths for candidates indefinitely. Eventually (and its been decades now) the complete inability to govern anything will catch up to a party. We have a system for better or worse that promotes a two party system, and if one party collapses the other will fill the vacuum until the other is either replaced or recovers. So the republicans will begin suffering a series of electoral catastrophes that will exacerbate their divisions, and eventually a more functional government will emerge. What you see now is NOT the new normal. The republicans are essentially a zombie party, they’re still walking but there’s not brain.

  16. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/09/2015 - 09:47 pm.

    Ouf-dah and then there is the article in the rollingstone

    Paul, nice deduction on the libertarian angle, I was tracking but couldn’t figure out where Mr. Berg was going with the rights thing. My theory is that a lot of folks look at rights like a pie, in order for you to get more, they have to lose some. They can’t grasp the fact they haven’t lost anything, unless one says; they lost the right to be prejudice?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 08:05 am.


      However remember how contentious the Right Not to Associate has been over the years.

      The courts and our citizens are very split on that…

      Then the “right” to free food and health care certainly are at odds with the freedom to keep more of one’s private property. (ie some people are taxed higher so other people get free stuff)

      There are many freedoms that impact no other citizens, however their are many more that are more pie like.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/10/2015 - 06:17 pm.

        Not quite sure what your driving at?

        The topic is Tribalized, yep I drifted with the libertarian piece, but thought I was spot on with the Rolling stone piece.
        Interesting “Right to”: As before, the option is, let them die/beg in the streets? Or is there a alternate option?
        Confusing issues: You are free to be a bum, does that mean as a bum, you cannot come into my sight because it interferes with my freedom to not look at bums?
        You know JA we ought to hit a Brew Pub some night

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/10/2015 - 11:49 pm.


          You had mentioned that “They can’t grasp the fact they haven’t lost anything”. I was just pointing out that I think you are incorrect. Often one groups gain costs another group something. Sometimes it doesn’t but often it does.

          Like the LGBT difference of opinion. It may be correct to force religious folks to associate with people who perform sexual acts that they see as sinful. This does not mean it is harmless to the religious right individuals. Sometimes it is a pie…

          Beer is GOOD. 🙂

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2015 - 08:11 am.


      “My theory is that a lot of folks look at rights like a pie, in order for you to get more, they have to lose some.”

      They treat freedom like it’s a zero-sum commodity. Hence my statement:

      “The fact that you live in a society with other people who deserve consideration and are entitled to some equality does not make you a victim of government oppression, nor does the fact that you may have to share some of your privilege with your fellow citizens.”

      What we actually have here is a group of people who have lost some of their more toxic privileges, and or found themselves sharing previously exclusive privilege with others. Hence living in a society is a burden that robes them of their liberty and oppresses them. It’s incoherent, it’s pretending that: “You’re not the boss of me” can be a socio-political-economic theory of some kind.

      It’s really important for people to start understanding this because while these guy can produce nothing but mumbo-jumbo, voting for them could lead to disaster.

      • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/10/2015 - 05:41 pm.

        Just to put it a different way

        I’d offer it as a difference between formal freedom and actual freedom.

        The libertarian Right expresses a preference for formal freedom – that is, minimal collective constraint on individual action – even if that formal freedom, as a result of the ineluctable concentration of wealth and power over time that it fosters, results in an authoritarian system and the near-absence of actual freedom for almost everyone. (It is never clear if the self-professed libertarian actually favors formal freedom at the expense of actual freedom, or just doesn’t have a very well-developed capacity for analytical thought in realms of political economy.)

        The progressive Left expresses a preference for actual freedom. This means dismissing as irrelevant theoretical notions of absolute freedom and aiming at maximum freedom in a complex society, otherwise known as ordered freedom. Maximum freedom requires a great deal of collective constraint on individual action so that economic freedom is respected but not to the extent that the concentration of wealth is allowed to undermine the freedom of many.

        The progressive Left doesn’t value collective constraint (i.e., “regulations”) as a good in itself, quite the opposite. The criterion is whether the collective constraint will have the net effect of increasing actual freedom.

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/11/2015 - 07:39 am.

          Deep Thoughts

          It seems you are saying that we should be willing to sacrifice the individual freedoms of the few to maximize the freedom of the many.

          Should we also apply that to police and security profiling? It would make the lines at the airport much shorter and eliminate some silly actions. (ie my ~70 year old Mom losing her cuticle scissors at the TSA checkpoint)

          I understand that you would like to pick and choose who gets what freedoms based on your value set, however Libertarians typically don’t seem to like to sacrifice the few for the many like you are suggesting. Be it on economic, security or in other areas.

          • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 11/12/2015 - 08:45 am.

            “I understand that you would like to pick and choose

            who gets what freedoms based on your value set.”

            I can’t for the life of me figure out how you get that from my comment.

            The basic value of our society is individual freedom. The role of the citizenry is to fill out its concept of “freedom” and then give it meaning through the decisions it makes about our laws and norms.

            You say Libertarians prefer not to sacrifice the freedom of the few to maximize the freedom of the many. I conjecture that a thoughtful citizenry would prefer not to sacrifice the freedom of the many to maximize the freedom of the few.

            My “value set” has nothing to do with it. Whatever a thoughtful, informed citizenry would decide would be what we’ve got. Unfortunately we don’t have a thoughtful, informed citizenry (one result of freedom residing in the few), so it’s all hypothetical.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/12/2015 - 01:28 pm.


              As far as I know, everybody no matter their wealth has the freedom to learn and to vote. We provide free K-12 educations, many TV / Radio stations are free and there are many free libraries in which to access books and the internet. I know it is easier to blame the few that you likely disagree with, however the real problem is that many citizens do not take personal responsibility to learn about issues and practice their freedom by voting.

              “a thoughtful citizenry would prefer not to sacrifice the freedom of the many to maximize the freedom of the few”

              So do the thoughful citizenry and yourself support profiling by security personnel, it would definitely increase the freedom for most of us, reduce screening costs and reduce our wait times at airports, sporting events, etc. Of course those innocent people who seem more likely to be terrorists or smugglers won’t be happy being singled out for sreenings.

Leave a Reply