What was a humorous question in 2000 when a map appeared showing the country divided between Jesusland and the United States of Liberty and Education seems more serious today. Image from Betty Bowers.com
Ronald Brownstein has a new book exploring the partisan divide in America today which has a short excerpt in The New York Times.
DeLay saw greater partisan conflict as a means of advancing conservative goals. The Kossacks saw more conflict as essential to resisting conservative goals and reviving a left-of-center agenda. Each vision derived energy from the other. The more Republicans pursued the uncompromising ideological agenda DeLay promoted, the more they strengthened the voices in the Democratic Party that opposed any cooperation with the GOP. The more Democratic activists pressured their party to pursue a scorched-earth opposition to the GOP, the more they strengthened the conservatives like DeLay who proclaimed it pointless to seek agreements with Democrats. DeLay and the Democratic Internet activists who gathered in Las Vegas could not have been more dissimilar in almost every possible respect. But each sought to reconfigure their political party to the same specifications— as a warrior party that would commit to opposing the other side with every conceivable means at its disposal. In that they were hardly alone. Among the most ardent activists in both parties, the only cause that attracted bipartisan support in the first years of the twenty-first century was the extermination of bipartisan cooperation. That reciprocal passion has produced a political environment marked by unstinting conflict between the parties and the virtual collapse of meaningful collaboration between them. What this unrelenting polarization of political life means for the parties, the electoral system, and the country is the subject of this book.What has not so far been taken seriously is the benefits to both sides of the partisan divide if America did split. The loudest voices in both parties now have different concepts of religion, foreign policy, the role of government, farm policies, civil liberties and even entertainment choices. Should Blue states forever subsidize the massive farms, the new plantations, of the Red States? Should the Red States continue to lead us into illegal and unnecessary wars? Can we remain this deeply divided over evolution and the role of church and government?
Unfortunately one thing that a state separation doesn't show is the deep partisan divisions that exist on many issues within the states as well. If the United States was divided there would remain large underground movements within each side supporting the other.
America may this century have to make a choice of reducing partisanship or splitting. The other possibility is a serious collapse of the old order where one side gets so discredited it will take a generation or longer to regain national power. That is the situation that occurred in the few years after the Great Depression began. Is it starting to occur again?
Amazon - The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America
A review in the NYT.
Brownstein skillfully and convincingly recounts the process by which the conservative movement gained control of the Republican Party and its Congressional delegation. He is especially deft at identifying the institutional and procedural tools that the most conservative wing of the party used after 2000 both to vanquish Republican moderates and to limit the ability of the Democratic minority to participate meaningfully in the legislative process. He is less successful (and somewhat halfhearted) in making the case for a comparable ideological homogeneity among the Democrats, as becomes clear in the book’s opening passage. Brownstein appropriately cites the former House Republican leader Tom DeLay’s farewell speech in 2006 as a sign of his party’s recent strategy. DeLay ridiculed those who complained about “bitter, divisive partisan rancor.” Partisanship, he stated, “is not a symptom of democracy’s weakness but of its health and its strength.”A Second NYT opinion.
But making the same argument about a similar dogmatism and zealotry among Democrats is a considerable stretch. To make this case, Brownstein cites not an elected official (let alone a Congressional leader), but the readers of the Daily Kos, a popular left-wing/libertarian Web site that promotes what Brownstein calls “a scorched-earth opposition to the G.O.P.”
In contemplating the possibility of building a political system that would be “less confrontational and more productive than today’s,” Mr. Brownstein explores a host of suggestions, including term limits for Supreme Court justices, the opening of all party primaries to independents, and the formation of a viable third party. Some of these suggestions may seem unrealistic, given the current state of politics. But the low approval rates for both the Bush White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress, combined with a growing conviction that the country is now off-track (an ABC News/Washington Post poll this month showed that 74 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction), attest to the public’s dissatisfaction with legislative gridlock and poisonous fights over national security, social issues and Supreme Court appointments.Should the activists on both sides give up and move to more hospitable states? Or should both sides continue to fight in the United States for the triumph of their beliefs? When you see the other side as fundamentally misguided and wrong and cannot even agree on the facts of history much less the meaning is their hope for compromises?
In the long term, Mr. Brownstein writes toward the end of this sobering book, “the party that seeks to encompass and harmonize the widest range of interests and perspectives is the one most likely to thrive. The overriding lesson for both parties from the Bush attempt to profit from polarization is that there remains no way to achieve lasting political power in a nation as diverse as America without assembling a broad coalition that locks arms to produce meaningful progress against the country’s problems.”