President Obama sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Ezra Klein at Vox as part of a larger effort to reach people directly without the filter of media pundits in the way.
This is one excerpt from that interview, dealing with the question of polarization. The video clip deals with Obama's answer to his specific contribution to polarization. Here is the full transcript of his answer to the question of more general polarization.
Well, there are a couple of things that in my mind, at least, contribute to our politics being more polarized than people actually are. And I think most people just sense this in their daily lives. Everybody's got a family member or a really good friend from high school who is on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum. And yet, we still love them, right? Everybody goes to a soccer game, or watching their kids, coaching, and they see parents who they think are wonderful people, and then if they made a comment about politics, suddenly they'd go, "I can't believe you think that!" But a lot of it has to do with the fact that a) the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts and a common worldview the way we did 20, 30 years ago. And that just keeps on accelerating, you know. And I'm not the first to observe this, but you've got the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh folks and then you've got the MSNBC folks and the — I don't know where Vox falls into that, but you guys are, I guess, for the brainiac-nerd types. But the point is that technology which brings the world to us also allows us to narrow our point of view. That's contributed to it.
Gerrymandering contributes to it. There's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts, to even bother trying to appeal. And a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money. So people are absorbing an entirely different reality when it comes to politics, even though the way they're living their lives and interacting with each other isn't that polarizing. So my advice to a future president is increasingly try to bypass the traditional venues that create divisions and try to find new venues within this new media that are quirkier, less predictable.
You know, yesterday I did three interviews with YouTube stars that generally don't spend a lot of time talking about politics. And the reason we did it is because they're reaching viewers who don't want to be put in some particular camp. On the other hand, when you talk to them very specifically about college costs or about health care or about any of the other things that touch on their individual lives, it turns out that you can probably build a pretty good consensus.
Now, that doesn't ignore the fact that I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it. I'd love to see changes at the state level that reduce political gerrymandering. So there's all kinds of structural things that I'd like to see that I think would improve this but, you know, there've been periods in the past where we've been pretty polarized. I think there just wasn't polling around. As I recall, there was a whole civil war — that was a good example of polarization that took place.
In the clip, the President specifically pointed to elimination of the filibuster as one solution for ending some of the polarization. I'm not so sure I agree with him on that, given where we are in the Senate right now.
Aside from the substance, a couple of things caught my attention. First, the video has really high production values. In some ways, it's much better than what you might see from a network interview with the President where it's the interviewer sitting across from him in a pretty room in the White House. However, I'm not so sure about those whirly graphics they inserted in there. Is that there for visual interest to keep the viewer engaged, or is it a distraction?
I'm sure we can get some polarized points of view on those questions, too.