Jonathan Bernstein over at The Plum Line asks, “Why Do They Do It?” with respect to the turn to the ideological. After all, there’s a cost:
The best estimates are that perceptions of a candidate as ideologically extreme will cost him about three points in a presidential election, everything else being equal.
His best thinking might be this:
In part, ideologues are the most likely to fall into information feedback loops, making it easier for them to believe that everyone out there is like them. It’s a rare ideological extremist who realizes that not everyone shares his or her issue positions; what he or she believes all seems so obviously true.
This phenomenon might also be an expression of radicalism generally. Years ago, Crane Brinton identified this phenomena in Anatomy of Revolution; and the process is generally understood. If status in the political community is gained by being outspoken (here status and not power), then the pursuit of power will naturally lead to increasing one’s outspokenness, to flank on the side of Truth, as it were. If one thing works, let’s do more of it. The same is true of policy and military strategy as well, only there it is framed in terms of overreach.
Now one cannot be blasé about all this, for radicalism and overreach can be quite damaging to others. The temptation is always to go to the other side, to match like with like, (verbal) violence with violence. The more difficult path is that of an aggressive or well-centered moderation. In times of extremism it is all the more important to know one’s self.