Friday, March 06, 2009

Ontology of the Turncoat

Responding to Rick Hertzberg's mini-memoir of Charles Krauthammer's political evolution, Sullivan hits the ontology of turncoatism right on the head: "In the polarized politics of the past couple of decades, it has been very hard to sustain a complicated politics and have a social life in Washington." How true! Turncoatism is as much about sociology as psychology. Turncoats become turncoats when the left and right appropriate for themselves all the benefits of political participation. The skewed distribution of incentives - money, fame, acceptance - push the recovering ideologue back out to the margins, just as a pendulum rests only at the perigee. Friends don't let friends be centrists.

But this has always been true, ever since the 1940s when turncoats became an institution in American political life.