November 3, 2004

UNUM:

A Split Nation? Don't Believe It: Yes, the campaign was bitter, but let's not mistake voter activism for intractable discord. (Niall Ferguson, 11/03/04, , LA Times)

he conventional wisdom that America has been rent asunder by this election strikes me as fundamentally wrong. Having spent much of the last few months on the road across the country, I am happy to report that civil war does not appear imminent. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the notorious political polarization in the United States is really nothing to worry about; it may even be something to celebrate. What we are seeing here is a sign of democratic vitality in a land that remains fundamentally whole. To a "nonresident alien" like me — which means I get the taxation without the representation — the most striking thing about this vast country remains not its political division but its astonishing homogeneity. Where else in the world could you fly 2,500 miles (say from Miami to Seattle) and find so little difference at the other end? Same Starbucks, same Wal-Mart, same SUVs, same people.

Yes, Americans were worked up about the election and, yes, there were some real differences between the candidates. But the things Americans have in common still greatly outweigh these differences.

For a start, there's a shared belief in democracy, hence those "Joe Schmo for School Board" signs you see everywhere, — not to mention those 16 California propositions. Americans also share a real ambivalence about American power overseas; despite appearances, this was not a contest between imperialists and anti-imperialists, because only a tiny minority of Republicans want anything other than a short-term American military presence in Iraq.

Americans are not all Christian fundamentalists, but most of them are Christians (which can no longer be said of secularized Europe). Americans were not all in favor of the war in Iraq, but they remain a remarkably patriotic people, passionately convinced that their system of government is the best in the world.


It's worth considering that if you factor out the anti-immigrationism that mars much of Europe, John Kerry would probably be more conservative than any leader in the West except Blair and Howard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 3, 2004 8:31 AM
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