For diehard Republicans and Democrats, the political conventions probably provided a lot of excitement. But I'm left with a real sense of unease, and not just about the economy or the outcome of the November election. I'm really, really worried about where we're headed for the foreseeable future – and whether we can manage to govern ourselves.
Watching both conventions, you couldn't help feeling that you were looking at people from two different countries. The difference – in age, in ethnicity, in philosophy – was stark.
And unfortunately, the conventions were simply a reflection of America: in a very real sense, we're living in two different universes.
This isn't new, obviously. There were strong divisions at the nation's founding. And we fought a civil war over our divisions. Nor is this the only time that deep divisions have been strengthened – and radicalized – by highly partisan, often loopy media.
Right now, though, I'm not finding much solace in history. In our better moments, we have come together – enough of us that government could get things done, anyway. I don't see that happening any time soon.
As I mentioned in a blog last week, you can find some depressing insight into all this in Ryan Lizza's "The Obama Memos: The Making of a Post-Post-Partisan Presidency," a New Yorker article from late January.
"Congress is polarized largely because Americans live in communities of like-minded people who elect more ideological representatives," Lizza wrote. "Obama's rhetoric about a nation of common purpose and values no longer fits this country: there really is a red America and a blue America."
And, Lizza said: "Polarization also has affected the two parties differently. The Republican Party has drifted much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has drifted to the left."
The divisions we're seeing in Washington, then, aren't just a political game. As Ramesh Ponnuru noted on a recent Morning Edition on NPR, there are "deep-seated differences between the parties on a lot of the issues."
Neither party, Ponnuru warned, seems inclined to set aside those differences. If Obama wins, he'll feel that he has a mandate for his policies. And Democrats may assume that Republicans will start cooperating after a Romney loss because they think their obstruction has been based on politics, not principle.
But, said Ponnuru, they're wrong. The Republicans he talks to, he said, believe what they say, deeply.
If Romney loses, Ponnuru predicted, Republicans will feel it was because he was too moderate. And if they control one or both house of Congress, they'll believe just as strongly as Obama that they have a mandate to follow through on what they've said.
So unless one party wins both the White House and strong control of Congress, we're in for more gridlock.
We're still nearly two months away from the election. At the conventions, both parties were preaching to the choir. Maybe the debates will influence voters, but there seem very few voters willing to be influenced. Most of us decided long ago which choir we're in.
So much is at stake in this election. If Republicans win big enough to do what they say they'll do, they'll approach the economy in a vastly different way than Democrats will. They'll cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, ramp up defense spending, weaken environmental regulations, ignore the signs of climate change, get rid of the Affordable Care Act, weaken Medicaid, start privatizing Medicare, appoint more Supreme Court Justices like Antonin Scalia, worsen our relationship with China, embrace more military interventions abroad, and begin the process of Constitutional Amendments banning abortion and limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.
And if observers like Ramesh Ponnuru and Ryan Lizza are correct, a Republican president and a Republican Congress will be doing exactly what many Americans want them to do.
We have a lot more challenges than the divisions in Washington.
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