Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Second Civil War Ronald Brownstein

Sub titled "How extreme partisanship has paralyzed Washington and polarized America." It's a very recent book (2007) . It gives an interesting account of the politics of the last 20 years. For those that lived thru the period, it is a good nostalgic read. The author describes the "great sorting out" when the Solid South decided to leave the democratic party and join the republicans. In the good old days, the solid south voted democratic, and had done so ever since the Civil War. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was pushed thru by the national democratic party, over the dead bodies of the southern democrats. After that, southerners found they could join the republican party without causing total revulsion among their neighbors.
The result was the conservative southern democrats joined the conservative republican party, and the moderate republicans from the northeast switched to the liberal democratic party. The result was considerable more unity in the two national parties. By the 1990's the division between the parties in Congress was as sharp and rancorous as it had been before the Civil War. The strength of the two parties was fairly equal by the '90's so controversial legislation had little chance of passage.
The author decries this as total gridlock and calls for a return to the more mellow 1950's. I fail to agree with this viewpoint. I see the great sorting out as clarifying the issues to the voters. In the mellow 1950's it was hard for citizens, even real news junkies, to know what their party stood for, and what it might do if elected. Today the choices for the voters are more understandable.
The author does not discuss the rise of contentious issues since the 1960's. Things like drugs, abortion, gay rights, and immigration just were not issues in the 1950's and 60's. They hadn't been invented yet. When you have more contentious issues on the table you are going to have a more polarized electorate. The other thing the author fails to discuss is the fading of the unity forced upon us by the great challenges of the depression and World War II, and the Soviets. Twenty years of facing down existential challenges will foster a lot of political unity.
The author is a reporter for the Los Angles Times, and once co authored a book with Ralph Nader. His liberal sympathies seep out in the text.

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