Here is a little factoid that will tell you almost everything you need to know about politics in America. There are currently 14 Democratic women in the US Senate and there have only ever been 17 Republican women in the Senate. The graph above is from Derek Willis’ article at The Upshot, GOP Women in Congress: Why So Few? It shows the total number of women in Congress since World War I. Up to 1990, the two parties were pretty much the same. But since then, the Republican Party has become unhinged. The Democratic Party is almost to the point of gender parity. But the Republican Party has flatlined.
Sadly, Willis’ article is kind of an apologia for the Republicans. If you read it very carefully, you will see that there really is something wrong with the Republicans. But the article tries very hard to make it all about the dysfunction of the system itself. The Democrats are electing a whole lot more women and the Republicans aren’t, “And political polarization seems to be a major reason.” How is that? Well, the argument seems to be that those women who are Republicans are more moderate — thus less likely to make it through the primary process. Yet, “Democratic women who are potential congressional candidates tend to fit comfortably with the liberal ideology of their party’s primary voters…”
This isn’t “political polarization”; this is “Republican extremism.” And this is something that I’ve written about a lot around here. I still find it hard to fathom how it is that Republicans continue to get roughly half the vote in presidential elections. People who were happy with the Republican Party of Nixon and Reagan should be quite comfortable with the Democratic Party of Obama. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t really a liberal party in the in the United States. We have an extreme right, even proto-fascist, party in the Republicans. And we have a centrist party in the Democrats. It is only relative to the Republicans that any kind of case can be made for the Democrats being liberal.
The whole thing indicates why in our system liberals can never succeed by “moderating.” The Republicans have moved hard and fast to the right. Democrats have moved slowly to the right — that’s especially true on economic issues, but even regarding social issues, the party often lags behind the public. The the huge gulf opened up by the intensity of the Republican move causes journalists to discuss the change as “political polarization” as if what had happened was the Republicans and Democrats both moving to the extremes. In addition, people like Peter Wehner are able to claim that Democrats are the real extremists without being laughed out of polite society. It’s just ridiculous.
It’s pretty clear what would cause the parties to be more symmetric in terms of female participation. The Democrats could become more liberal. That would make the existing Republican Party more appealing to women in the middle of the political spectrum. So increasing polarization would cause more female Republicans to be elected to Congress. Of course, the same thing would happen if the Republicans became less extreme. But that just proves the point that the issue is Republicans extremism and not polarization.
Almost 51% of the nation is female. Yet when one party sees an enormous growth in the representation of women while the other sees its growth stagnate, it is time for yet another column about systemic polarization. Journalists not being able to discuss the issue honestly is one of the things that allows this situation to continue. The Republican Party ought to be ashamed of the current situation. But no: the problem isn’t them; the problem is just “the system.”