A high school friend of mine, I’ll call him Kevin, is outgoing and curious in a mischievous way. He once saw a squirrel climb into a lone tree with no other trees around it. Kevin climbed up the tree after the squirrel. The squirrel climbed higher, Kevin did too. This continued until the squirrel could climb no more, at which point it turned and screeched at Kevin like he’d never before heard a squirrel screech. To avoid possible injury to himself Kevin climbed out of the tree.
Implying that the current intransigence across the partisan divide is because Republicans are more extremist than Democrats, as Haidt does just after the 50 minute mark in this video strikes me as the intellectual equivalent of saying the squirrel was extremist for screeching. Further, it ignores some of Haidt’s most insightful findings, and fits the facts a little too conveniently into the liberal grand narrative.
No less than the Declaration of Independence offers a succinct description of the real reasons Republicans are screeching:
“all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”
As Haidt insightfully described in “When Compassion Leads to Sacrilege” (video here, transcript here) liberals commit sacrilege five different ways against conservative sacred values. America was founded on those values; it is based on a Hume-ian, Burke-ian, six-foundation, intuitive grasp of human nature and of the importance of social capital. Decades of incremental liberal sacrilege in defiance of the former, resulting in the gradual degradation of the latter, is precisely the sort of “long train of abuses and usurpations” the Declaration describes. The Democratic abandonment of incrementalism in favor of the quantum leap of sacrilege that Obamacare represents are the main reasons republicans have turned in the tree and screeched.
Haidt attributes the current state of the partisan divide to many factors, including basic human nature, and says, rightfully I think, that to a large degree it is inevitable. But by pointing out that most of the extremists in Congress are Republicans, and by flashing an unflattering picture of Newt Gingrich on the screen as he describes the changes Gingrich made to the mechanisms of Congress, and by saying Gingrich’s changes were one of the turning points, as he does in this video, he’s essentially blaming the treed Republican squirrel for screeching and completely ignoring the fact that it was the Democratic Kevin which caused it to happen. If Haidt really wants to get to the bottom of the divide he’d be much better served by flashing pictures of Woodrow Wilson, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama and explaining the sacrilege against America’s sacred values they’ve individually and collectively committed.