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By James A. Kidney
It is the season of red, blue and purple. That means presidential campaigning is upon us – in force. It is not really a season at all anymore, with round-the-clock, round-the-year, election news coverage, whether warranted or not.
Nor does that combination of bright colors mean the nation is in good cheer. Rather, it is thoroughly divided, as reflected in our representative governments at all levels. Yes, Americans still have far more in common than they do differences, as the occasional columnist feels the need to remind us. But, increasingly it seems, the United States is two cultures united by a common language and divided by very different views of what constitutes America and how to deal with our problems, many of which are conveniently viewed as “caused by the other side” of the red-blue divide.
Red states want less government of any kind for almost any issue except national defense, abortion and certain cultural issues. Red states are hosts to a frequently voiced suspicion — or even hatred — of government, at least at the federal level. There is an undercurrent of yearning reflected in policy suggestions among the red state political leaders that the way to deal with the 21st century’s problems is to revert to the middle of the previous century. Eisenhower, Goldwater and Reagan are the inspiration for sentimental recollections and vague policy prescriptions, although all three might find it difficult to identify with much of what the red state GOP stands for today. Plus, the world is different than it was as late as the Reagan era. The U.S. is not the economic giant standing astride a war-ruined world as it was in 1950.
It is not hard to understand why white men, and some women, yearn for such a past. The anger that it is not going to happen is expressed in extreme venom and, as the John Boehner resignation shows, vengeance against anyone even willing to discuss compromise.
Blue state leaders and their voters look favorably on government, especially the federal government, as the solution to problems such as dirty water and air, climate change and economic inequality. Franklin Roosevelt and, on domestic policy, Lyndon Johnson are the model presidents for these folks. On national security, however, there is less certainty about America’s role in the world than in the more militarily aggressive red states. Although blue states face their own economic and racial uncertainties in big cities and suburbs, many struggling families — especially white families — across the country perceive an unmistakable disregard for their problems among liberals.
Blue state liberals campaign more poorly than red state conservatives outside of the presidential races, failing to capture the majority in those few congressional districts and state level offices that have not been gerrymandered by either party into one color. Liberals tend to look askance at the positions of the more conservative party and believe the logic of liberal thinking alone can carry the day. Their candidates also don’t fully adopt liberal positions, afraid that they will offend independents, but the resulting “compromise” pleases no one. Their base is not motivated to vote in off-year elections, so Democrats lose in close Senate and House races.
Red state politicians are better at getting elected by undiluted appeals to the most conservative in their base, many of whom vote regularly. But their government animus and devotion to positions undaunted by the experience of recent history (e.g., failure of “trickle down” economics for over 30 years) cause them to be very poor at governance.
This situation will not change in the foreseeable future. More optimistic projections to the contrary are seriously flawed.
This series looks at the prospects for continuing divide, why it is not likely to change and, later, how these very different political approaches to our problems are reflected in demographics and policies at the state level.
But this website is not all about the highly wonky nature of the red-blue-purple divide. Such postings will be only occasional. There are more fun things to write about. We have and will. But for this series on the Colors Between the States, be prepared for some wonky assessments. Your comments and responses are invited. We will be happy to publish opposing views if supported by reason and facts. Just email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or post them in the comments section.
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