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Chronicle commentary mistakes polarization with partisanship

I hope you’re strapped in for what will be a wild Tuesday, great to have you in. I have my most controversial claim of any show for you in about 12 minutes. County commission meeting today where public opinion will undoubtedly be over $275 for the American Libraries Association membership, but what it’s really about is partisanship. Betz Farm is back on the commission agenda as well. They have an offer above appraised value but the developer wants a minimum number of lots that might exceed what it can currently handle which would lead us to, you guessed it, another zoning battle.

Speaking of zoning battles, at 5 p.m. today the commission will hear about the 86 new home project in Pine Ridge. Look, I’ve done a few shows on this, my final thoughts - and I’m saying this at risk of being kicked out of my own neighborhood - is that it’s a good project. About 120 acres that are going to be left open, that’s over 50% of the project, just 86 homes, each on at least an acre. And I know the argument is an outside developer gets rich while residents who bought property assuming the golf course would help keep its value get the shaft, but that property value is going to decrease if the surrounding area falls into disrepair, which it absolutely will without private enterprise, and other solutions like the Pine Ridge Property Owners’ Association to buy it back is just as unfair to the other property owners who don’t live on the course. It’s a good project, plain and simple.

I feel like you have a better chance at picking powerball numbers correctly than you do at guessing what the commission will do, but historically speaking this board has overruled the Planning and Development Commission. The PDC did approve this project, and if I was to advise the commissioners purely politically, I would tell them to vote against it, and so my guess is that’s what happens. Commissioner Diana Finegan campaigned hard on making sure this exact thing never happens so she’s almost certainly a no. Commissioner Rebecca Bays campaigned on smart growth, this is a good project, and she doesn’t face reelection for three more years so I would guess she is a yes, and I think the three who are up for reelection Commissioners Holly Davis, Jeff Kinnard and Chair Ruthie Schlabach if present will all be no’s but I’ll give them credit for reasons beyond the political. That’s my guess anyway, project fails 4-1. Probably have to correct this in That’s Just Wrong next week.

The Just Wright Citrus post today is back to its usual stellar quality, which I’m happy for Mike. It’s a fascinating story regarding government bureaucracy at its worst revolving around a boating sign on Crystal River, definitely worth the read.

Today’s main topic is going to focus on two parts of the Chronicle commentary section today - the first is going to touch on its editorial about the LifeStream Contract that I’ve done a show about already, but I’m also going to react to one of the syndicated pieces today as well. Let’s get to that now.

Today I go teach my class at the University of Florida for the first time since their initial assignment grades were shown to them. It was a writing diagnostic. The average grade in my class was a 67%, one of my friends got a really big kick out of that, a D+ average on the first assignment certainly sets the tone.

A couple of the biggest mistakes my students make is a lack of specificity or the wrong word choice. I had this problem as a young writer who was a creative writing major. I lived in the abstract. Professional journalism training and a couple of great editors grounded me. And sometimes, that’s all it takes - one good teacher. So today, I’m going to be that for the Chronicle commentary section.

The editorial today advocates for the commission to stop micromanaging LifeStream and get the mental health facility built as quickly as possible. The backstory to this is about a month ago, a divided board voted 3-2 to approve changes in language to a contract with LifeStream in order to keep the project moving forward. I would have sided with the minority, with the two who voted against it, had I been on the board, but the Chronicle editorial lamented this morning that it wasn’t unanimous in favor, two very different perspectives.

You can go back and listen to that episode from Aug. 25 called “calling it what it is,” but I highlight three red flags with LifeStream being a culture problem among the nonprofit’s leadership and a history of difficulty obtaining contractually obligated reports as reasons to tow a hardline with them in these negotiations. The biggest problem I had, though, was that at some point, what we are calling something is not going to be what it is. I said you can eat a hand-crafted, never frozen beef with lightly salted potatoes and have it be a quarterpounder with fries. So too can you call something a mental health facility, but without a psychiatrist on premises, and without adequate staff to handle intense rushes or emergencies, then it’s really just another building - one the county helped pay for but doesn’t even own. Words mean something. We have to take that seriously. My students are abundantly aware of that now.

And that brings me to my problem with the syndicated commentary. It was titled, “Polarization is harming a generation of kids” …except it uses the word polarization wrongly and does so while saying we need to educate our kids about the subject. Major face to palm. Think of a dictionary, how words will have several definitions. One definition of polarization is to push toward extremes, and certainly some political figures - our current president and former president at the top of that list - have the ability to do this, to separate us into distinct groups.

But the use of it in this way is wrong in the world of political science. What it actually means is partisan, not polarization. Here’s an example. I take a very polarizing stance on abortion. I am pro-life and I see it as a moral issue, the sanctity of life. Because of this, the only abortion exception I would be willing to make is when the life of the mother is in danger, but not in rape or incest and not after any certain number of weeks. This is considered to be a harder line conservative stance than even some Florida Republicans, and it might surprise people who have come to see me as a moderate. But even though my stance on this is polarizing, my expression of it is not partisan.

If you are pro-choice, I understand that you might see it as a healthcare issue or even from a libertarian perspective of government regulating what you can do with your body. I understand both those opinions, and don’t even necessarily disagree with the latter, but feel the morality of protecting innocent life (death penalty is another story) supersedes the laws of man even when Roe v Wade made the practice legal. Here’s an important distinction. I don’t think people who are pro-choice are immoral people, but rather their opinions on this particular issue are misguided, and yes, the opinion is immoral. Someone being pro-choice wouldn’t disqualify them in my book from being a good person though.

The commentary this morning says, “A Pew Research Center study found most Democrats and Republicans today label the other side as more closed-minded, dishonest, immoral and unintelligent.” That’s not describing polarization, if it was, then my view of abortion would lead me to think that about Democrats. That’s describing partisanship. Partisanship is blind loyalty to an organization or person regardless of circumstance.

Let’s breakdown my example one more time and then we’ll shift it to local and national politics then wrap this up. My abortion position is polarizing because there are compromises in between my stance and the opposite of my stance that I would be unwilling to accept such as exceptions and a certain week decision period. I am more absolutist in my view than what the middle ground allows - polarized to one side. But I don’t let this position change my opinion of my opponents, my partisanship to the Republican Party is quite low despite being an active member. I don’t let that affiliation keep me from accepting that a Democrat might one day have a good idea - I don’t know - still waiting here locally.

But when you have partisanship, when it becomes more important to you that your side wins rather than the merit of a situation, then you do have the name calling and the downright strange arguments that are made by otherwise rational people. I think locally the ALA is one of these. It has become a partisan issue for some Democrats that regardless of the situation, they must win simply so “those people” on the other side don’t.

By the way, I’ll give our county commission credit, I don’t think they are very partisan which is a good thing. We want our decision makers to have an open mind. I have actively worked against three of them, Commissioners Diana Finegan, Ruthie Schlabach, and Rebecca Bays, and been highly critical of the other two in media but they are always open-minded with me despite being on different teams in the past. They deserve credit for this.

Lastly, hyper-partisanship, not hyper-polarization, explains our current presidential predicament. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that he will not challenge President Joe Biden or VP Kamala Harris if Biden decides not to run and that Harris won’t try to primary Biden despite the obvious health concerns. This is partisanship. Partisanship and not polarization also explains the following of former president Donald Trump.

This is the most controversial claim I’ll make, probably on any show, but former President Donald Trump was not a conservative president in the true definition of the word. He was in today’s weird acceptance of what that word means, but he once considered gun control executive action despite other amendments, he exploded the national debt in covid response, and he consolidated as much power under the executive branch. None of these things are traditionally conservative actions, so his stances are not at all polarizing, in fact, they are quite moderate.

His followers are not polarized conservatives, they are hyper-partisans, unwilling to let any new information affect their negative views of out-groups or their positive view of their in-group. And that’s what’s hurting our society, not polarization. Word choice matters. The least we can do is get it right in an editorial about educating our kids on why it does.


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