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Guard Against Political Polarization

I enjoy receiving your magazine and being part of the Swarthmore community, through my son Preston ’15. One of the great benefits of a liberal arts environment is that it forces one to think new thoughts, or at least to be confronted with ideas that may differ from those you feel most comfortable with.

I found such a moment of dissonance in reading your recent article “Re-branding the Right.” This was surprising to me, as my political trajectory is somewhat similar to that of Putnam’s. My political coming-of-age was also with Kennedy. I became a Democrat in the seventh grade while watching the first Nixon-Kennedy debate. Much of my career has been spent working in Congress (always for Democrats), and so I have seen many political movements come and go and the intensity of particular “isms” become subsumed, compromised, or just plain tired.

And as a Democrat, I have also become tired of the attacks on my party and beliefs as being suspect; not quite “American,” “pink” or “socialist.” So imagine my surprise when I found myself becoming uncomfortable with the article in question, where the “Americanism” of the Tea Party (in caps, to designate a defined set of beliefs?), is held suspect because of a collective “coolness to blacks,” “predilection against immigrants” and the desire to join church (Christian) and state. …What bothers me about this article, is in its view that this grass-roots response by concerned citizens to current troubles is not just wrong, but dishonest.

Many in the middle and lower-middle class are fearful that if they lose their job, or their home, or if someone gets sick, then all they have worked hard for is lost. That this fear would lead them to look for new political ideas is understandable. And Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 simplified tax idea took him briefly to the top of the Republican polls. Paul Ryan has provocative ideas on the budget. And then there is Ron Paul … Correct or not, having a debate over such ideas is not a bad thing.

So to dismiss these concerns as illegitimate (“If the economy were OK … the Tea Party would make no sense”) I think does a disfavor to open political dialogue. I am especially concerned that in a liberal arts environment that stresses the importance of diversity, openness and discourse, that such ideas—regardless of the messengers—are seen as beyond the pale and “risk smearing [the Republican] party’s brand for a very, very long time.” Swarthmore should not be yet another enabler for the current polarization in national politics.

Scott Cooper P’15
Chevy Chase, Md.

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