A veteran reporter explains the loss of compromise in contemporary American politics.
Los Angeles Times national correspondent Brownstein writes proficiently about the Red/Blue divide, demonstrating how it plays out not so much among voters as in the halls of Congress, where partisanship has virtually destroyed cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. Ignore the overzealous title: There is no civil war, but rather a “dangerous impasse,” as the author writes, where party loyalty and ideology now prevent efficient government action on pressing national issues from health care to immigration. Brownstein provides much-needed perspective by examining the history of modern American politicking, from the four highly partisan decades beginning with the 1896 McKinley-Bryan election to the “golden age” of cooperation in Congress extending from the presidential administrations of FDR to Lyndon Johnson, when politicians were less polarized. Politics became more combative from 1964 to 1990, writes the author, as rising special-interest groups of the Left and Right gradually helped form the Democratic and Republican party “bases,” and Congressional floor debates filled with rhetoric aimed at TV audiences. At the same time, cultural values replaced class as the focus of national politics. The GOP became the party of culturally traditional, churchgoing suburban Americans, and the Democrats attracted primarily singles, seculars, homosexuals, nonwhites and others more comfortable with urban diversity. The Republican strategy under President George W. Bush has exploited and deepened these differences, says Brownstein, fostering a hyper-partisan system that rewards party discipline and discourages compromise. The author traces the roles of the media, lobbyists and other factors, and argues for reforms—restoring the Fairness Doctrine, for example—to create a less confrontational politics of consensus. For all their disagreements, notes the author, voters are less polarized than Washington politicos and would welcome national leadership that reconciles, unites and gets things done.
Astute examination of a stymied system.