June 18, 2004

60-40 NATION:

A Nation Divided? Who Says? (JOHN TIERNEY, 6/13/04, NY Times)

If you've been following the election coverage, you know how angry you're supposed to be. This has been called the Armageddon election in the 50-50 nation, a civil war between the Blue and the Red states, a clash between churchgoers and secularists hopelessly separated by a values chasm and a culture gap.

But do Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens? Have Americans really changed so much since the day when a candidate with Ronald Reagan's soothing message could carry 49 of 50 states?

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

These academics say it's not the voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma Desmond might put it: We're still big. It's the parties that got smaller.

Just because a state votes red or blue in a presidential election doesn't mean that its voters are fixed permanently on one side of a political divide or culture gap. The six bluest states in 2000, the ones where George W. Bush fared worst - Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Connecticut and Maryland - all have Republican governors. Even California went red last year when Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican, became governor.


Mr. Tierney is about as good as it gets at the Times, so it can only be his libertarianism that prevents him from seeing the point of his own story: the nation has shifted back towards the Right after the long New Deal/Great Society interlude and is now back to being a 60-40 Nation--as those Republicans governors in putatively Blue states demonstrate and as will be punctuated by this Fall's presidential and congressional landslides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2004 10:43 AM
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