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Is America Hopelessly Divided? How Hyper-Partisanship, Party Polarization, and Governmental Dysfunction Will Soon Give Way to a New American Political.

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Presentation on theme: "Is America Hopelessly Divided? How Hyper-Partisanship, Party Polarization, and Governmental Dysfunction Will Soon Give Way to a New American Political."— Presentation transcript:

1 Is America Hopelessly Divided? How Hyper-Partisanship, Party Polarization, and Governmental Dysfunction Will Soon Give Way to a New American Political Order Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University aeward@niu.edu

2 Introduction Through much of the 20th century, the Republican and Democratic parties had sizable liberal and conservative factions. Yet those factions have only grown. The roots of the rise of polarization both in America and in Congress that has characterized the past several decades began with the struggle of African Americans for civil rights and continued through Vietnam, Watergate, the rise of new media and the 24-hour news cycle, and the Reagan revolution and resulting conflicts in the New Right political regime. The ultimate result has been that there are now, more than ever before, two Americas—Democratic America and Republican America that have inevitably led to government by crisis (shutdowns, sequestrations, fiscal cliffs, and debt ceiling threats). Yet there are new, cross-cutting issues that appeal to voters in the middle— often young voters—in both Americas. As a result, the new American Center may soon provide the basis for a new era of political consensus where the traditional Democratic and Republican parties as we know them will be a thing of the past.

3 in 1982 the centrists — or at least those who by voting record were somewhere near the middle of their respective parties — comprised 79 percent of the House. In 2012 they made up 2.5 percent of the House.

4 Most members of the House in Congress won their 2012 races by large margins. Only 62 out of 435 legislators won in close races. Why?

5 Relative Competitiveness of Presidential Vote in House Districts: 1976 v. 2012 America has become increasingly polarized. The presidential vote in congressional districts was close in most districts in 1976. By 2012, there were far fewer districts where the presidential vote was close.

6 Relative Competitiveness of Presidential Vote in States: 1976 v. 2012 Like the previous charts, these also show how America has become increasingly polarized. Many states were decided by a close margin in the 1976 presidential race. By contrast, very few states were decided by a close margin in 2012.

7 Two Americas There are two political Americas. Neither understand each other very well and there’s little chance they will get to know one another any better because they don’t a) live in the same places b) watch the same TV shows or movies c) buy the same cars or d) read the same newspapers, watch the same news or read the same blogs (or any blogs at all). Source: Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. NBC-WSJ poll, Oct. 8, 2013.

8 Party Polarization: Realignment The 2 major parties, as we have known them in our lifetimes, have been in the process of realigning and therefore becoming more homogeneous and polarized. For example, the Republican Party was once the party of Lincoln and the North. The Democrats were the party of the South. But now the Republicans are the party of the South and Democrats the party of the North. How did this happen?

9 Party Polarization: Civil Rights Several events accelerated the exodus of white, Southern conservative Democrats to the GOP. For example: – President Harry S. Truman’s (D) executive order to desegregate the military in 1948, which preceded the emergence of the segregationist “Dixiecrats” — a short-lived splinter party that nominated future GOP senator Strom Thurmond for president that year. – President Lyndon B. Johnson’s (D) push to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed many forms of racial, religious and gender discrimination, is also widely credited with speeding the realignment of the parties. “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come,” Johnson is famously reported to have said after signing the bill into law.

10 Vietnam As American public opinion turned against the war in Vietnam (1955- 1975) in the late 1960 and early 1970s, the locus of opposition to the conflict in Congress sat within the Democratic Party, a major factor in Johnson’s decision to not seek reelection in 1968. Still, a handful of mostly Northern congressional Republicans publicly opposed the war— remnants of the party’s former isolationist wing. In 1972, Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) received his party’s presidential nomination while running on a liberal, antiwar platform that opponents derided as “Acid, Amnesty [for draft-dodgers] and Abortion.” Incumbent President Richard Nixon and his plumbers destroyed moderate Democrats and wanted to run against McGovern who they knew they could defeat and who would push the party to the left. It worked. Nixon trounced McGovern and his campaign helped to solidify the Democratic Party’s dovish reputation for decades to come.

11 Watergate The resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate investigation, which revealed numerous abuses of power by the White House, severely damaged public trust in government. A November 1974 Pew Poll found that just 36% of Americans said they trust the government “just about always/most of the time” — at the time a new low and a precipitous drop from the peak of the Kennedy and early Johnson administrations, when about 75% Americans gave that response.

12 The “Reagan Revolution” and the Rise of the New Right Political Regime The election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980 ushered in a new era of conservative governance, in particular with the rise of more business-friendly “supply-side” economic policies that favored tax cuts and greatly reduced spending on domestic social safety-net programs, while at the same time implementing large increases in defense spending. Reagan built a new electoral coalition for the GOP which included southern Democrats who switched party allegiance and Christian Evangelicals who previously had not participated in politics.

13 Politicized Courts: The Rejection of Robert Bork’s Nomination to the Supreme Court Reagan’s nomination of federal judge Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 was a flash point of congressional partisanship. Bork, a conservative former Yale law professor who espoused “originalist” views that the Constitution should be strictly interpreted according to the intent of the Founding Fathers, faced fierce opposition from Senate Democrats, who challenged his views on the Constitution and his opposition to the right to privacy at the center of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. Bork’s nomination was defeated by Democrats (led by Ted Kennedy) and (to the fury of conservatives) a handful of Republicans, ushering in an era in which Supreme Court nominees seem to share as little about their views as possible.

14 The 24-Hour News Cycle and the Rise of Partisan Media In the late 1980s, a new voice arrived on the national radio scene. Conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh rapidly became the most popular talk radio host in the country with an estimated weekly audience of 14 million in 2011. With this enormous soapbox, Limbaugh emerged as the leading voice of conservative Republicans, and his show remains a mecca for conservative lawmakers, while Republicans who displease him frequently face his wrath. CNN’s dominance of the 24-hour cable news game began to crumble after the 1996 launch of Fox News Channel, which evolved into a home for a number of conservative pundits, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, and is currently the most-watched cable news channel. Also launched in 1996, another cable start-up called MSNBC eventually emerged as a counterweight to Fox News with a roster of liberal commentators that now includes Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews.

15 Congressional Conservatism The Republican wave election in 1994, in which the GOP won 52 seats and took control of the House for the first time in more than 40 years, was the culmination of the rise of conservative politics that began with Reagan’s election in 1980. Led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), the Republican revolutionaries faced off with President Bill Clinton (D) on numerous occasions in pursuit of their aggressive domestic and government reform agenda. Clinton vetoed 37 bills during his presidency, two of which were overridden by Congress.

16 Government Shutdown (1995) The clashes between Clinton and House Republicans came to a head in November 1995, when the president vetoed a bill to raise the federal debt limit, to which Republicans had attached numerous amendments that would have mandated a balanced budget and stripped the Treasury Department of its ability to tap federal trust funds to head off a borrowing crisis. For a total of 28 days in two stretches between November 1995 and January 1996 (a temporary spending bill was passed in November), the federal government furloughed hundreds of thousands of employees and shuttered nonessential functions of agencies. The crisis ended when Republicans cut a deal with Clinton to reopen the government. After it was over, the shutdowns were widely viewed as disastrous for the GOP, which lost eight House seats as Clinton cruised to reelection in 1996.

17 Presidential Impeachment (1998) The ongoing war between Clinton and House Republicans reached its climax when the House voted to impeach a sitting president for the first time since Andrew Johnson in 1868. On a nearly party-line vote, the House charged Clinton with perjury and obstruction of justice on Dec. 19, 1998, for allegedly misleading a grand jury about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, with whom it was revealed he had an affair. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate, and the saga severely damaged House Republicans. Polls showed that Clinton enjoyed some of the highest job-approval numbers of his administration during his impeachment, while Gingrich resigned from Congress in early 1999 after being held responsible by many Republicans for losses in the 1998 midterm election.

18 Bush v. Gore (2000) On Election Day in 2000, a virtual tie in the state of Florida between Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D) prevented the declaration of a winner. The Florida recount continued for days in a highly charged atmosphere, as the Gore campaign argued for votes to be recounted in key Democratic-heavy counties where irregularities were reported, while the Bush team pushed for an end to the recount while the Republican candidate was officially leading. The crisis ended when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling ordering Florida to stop the recount, handing the victory to Bush.

19 Iraq War (2003-2011) After a rare, brief moment of national unity following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the country again found itself deeply polarized as President George W. Bush, with the support of congressional Republicans and many Democrats, launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq to rid the country of alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Early opposition to the war was led primarily by liberals. While it took only days to topple the government of Saddam Hussein, a deadly insurgency soon emerged. As the death toll of Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops mounted in the years that followed, public opinion turned against the conflict, and some of the largest demonstrations since the Vietnam War were held in American cities. Despite growing dissatisfaction with his performance, Bush narrowly defeated Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential election, during which the Iraq war and national security were central issues. The war in Iraq also played a major role in the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, in which then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) positioned himself as an antiwar candidate, in contrast to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who voted to authorize military force against Iraq in 2002.

20 Democrats Retake Congress (2006) With Bush’s poll numbers plummeting amid public dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, Democrats won more than two dozen seats to take control of the House of Representatives in 2006. The victory elevated Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an avowed liberal, to House speaker, the highest office ever attained by a woman. In the Senate, Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) became majority leader as Democrats won a slim majority with 49 seats, plus two independents who joined their caucus. The Democratic victories ended unified Republican control of the White House and Congress and put the brakes on Bush’s agenda.

21 The Great Recession and the Election of Barack Obama (2008) Less than two months after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in 1929, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) handily defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to become the first African American president. Democrats also expanded their control of the House and achieved a nearly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In just two election cycles, the pendulum swung from total Republican control of the government to unified Democratic control of the White House and Congress. In 2009, after Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties and Al Franken was declared the winner of the contested race in Minnesota, Senate Democrats controlled the 60 seats needed to defeat a GOP filibuster.

22 Tea Party Movement (2008-) As Democrats began pursuing an aggressive liberal agenda that included new laws to end pay discrimination for women, increase regulation of Wall Street and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gay people from serving openly, disaffected conservatives began to organize and turn out in large numbers at protests. Calling themselves the tea party, a reference to Revolutionary war patriots who dumped seized British tea into Boston Harbor, these activists mobilized against taxes, government regulation and, in particular, a new bill being pushed by the president that was intended to provide health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans.

23 GOP Resurgence (2010) Riding a wave of conservative anger and dissatisfaction with President Obama’s handling of the economy, Republicans won 63 new seats and again took control of the House in 2010, making John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) their speaker. Many of these newcomers, having never held elected office before and maintaining close ties to the tea party, came to Washington with the intent of fighting Obama’s agenda, shrinking the size of government and putting an end to politics as usual. But perhaps the most consequential Republican victory in 2010 took place at the state level, where the GOP won or expanded their control of numerous legislatures. This allowed Republicans to favorably redraw many congressional districts ahead of the 2012 elections.

24 “Obamacare” (2010) The fight in Congress over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which came to be known as Obamacare, proved to be one of the most bruising since the civil rights era. The August 2009 death of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of the bill’s fiercest supporters, ended the Democrats’ brief filibuster-proof majority. Decried as unconstitutional socialized medicine by conservatives in Congress and the tea partiers who flooded the town hall meetings held in their districts, the bill passed Congress in June 2010 without a single Republican vote after some controversial maneuvering by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D). Obama signed the bill into law, but the fight continued. After a number of court rulings for and against the law, the Supreme Court settled the question of its constitutionality in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012). The court upheld its most controversial provision, the so-called individual mandate that requires Americans to have health insurance or face a fine, but ruled that the law’s expansion of Medicaid was optional for states.

25 Debt Limit - Sequestration (2011-2012) With Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate, and Republicans deeply opposed to the Democratic agenda controlling the House, the business of passing laws slowed to a crawl in 2011 and set the stage for crisis. The first showdown was in April 2011, just months after the GOP took over. Republicans threatened to force a government shutdown if Democrats didn’t agree to budget cuts. Just minutes before the deadline, they did. But, later, new Republicans felt misled: Many of the $38 billion in “cuts” were Washington illusions, designed to change little in the real world. The second showdown came in summer 2011, when Republicans threatened not to raise the national debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to spending cuts., bringing the world to the brink of another economic crisis. Boehner found his caucus nearly impossible to control as he sought a deal with the White House. This time, the GOP and President Obama agreed: in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, they set caps on annual spending and set in motion a bigger, broader budget cut: sequestration. This was a massive cut — $85 billion in the first year — spread across much of the federal government including defense and many domestic programs. It was designed to be so bad that it wouldn’t come true: The two parties would be scared into agreeing on a less-painful alternative before the deadline on Dec. 31, 2012.

26 Fiscal Cliff (2013) Following Obama’s reelection in 2012, a race that political scientist Gary Jacobson described as “the most partisan, nationalized... election in at least six decades,” the U.S. government immediately found itself on the brink of another self-imposed economic crisis. In addition to the sequestration deadline, tax cuts passed during the Bush administration were set to expire at the end of the year, threatening to raise taxes on Americans amid an anemic recovery—the so-called “fiscal cliff.” An agreement was reached in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2013 to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans, but the automatic spending cuts were left in place.

27 Government Shutdown (2013) The battle between the White House and House Republicans reached its apex in late September 2013 when GOP lawmakers refused to pass a temporary spending bill to fund the government unless Democrats agreed to defund or postpone key features of Obamacare. Once again, at the end of the fiscal year on October 1, 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, “nonessential” parts of the federal government were shut down, and “essential” government employees were required to work without pay. The nation once again was expected to reach its debt limit in mid-October. Yet public opinion turned against the Republicans in congress, particularly the tea party faction, and a compromise was quickly reached on October 17 just hours before the federal government’s ability to borrow money was set to expire. Congress passed and President Obama signed into a law an agreement that funds the federal government in place of an annual budget through Jan. 15, 2014 and lifts the debt limit through Feb. 7, 2014.

28 House GOP Obstructionism Explained If you want to understand the congressional Republicans who have forced confrontations with President Obama on the fiscal cliff, the government shutdown and the debt ceiling — and whether those lawmakers might feel encouraged to force more confrontations in the future — you need to understand the economic struggles of the Republicans’ home districts. People in those districts are poorer and more likely to be unemployed than in the nation at large. They have focused their anger about their economic circumstances on Obama, and they want someone, anyone, to make him improve things for them. In the 45 districts represented by Members who have routinely opposed Speaker John Boehner on things like the fiscal cliff deal, the farm bill and aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, the median income in 2012 was 7% lower than the national median, according to the Census Bureau. The unemployment rate averaged 10%, which is almost 2% higher than the national rate, and 2% higher than the overall rate in the states that contain each district.

29 Is Dysfunctional Government Inevitable? American politics has been transformed over time through reorganizing elections where the American people have overwhelmingly rejected the politics of the past (an old political regime) for the politics of the future (a new political regime). Political regimes rise and fall over decades. For example, the liberal New Deal regime began with FDR’s election, reached its apex with LBJ’s Great Society, and was undone during Jimmy Carter’s term in office. America may be on the verge of another transformative moment. The conservative New Right regime began with Reagan’s election, reached its apex with the post 9-11 presidency of George W. Bush, and will likely be undone during the next GOP president’s administration. If this is what is happening, as some political scientists suggest, what will characterize the next transformative political regime? Recent polling may give us some clues.

30 Despite the increasing trends of 2 Americas and polarization in congress and the nation at large, there is still a sizable group of Americans in the middle as demonstrated by the results from a 2013 poll conducted by the lead pollsters for both the Obama and Romney 2012 presidential campaigns. So who constitutes and what characterizes the American Political Center?

31 The Traditional Liberal-Conservative Split The Liberal Base: – Bleeding Hearts: Mostly young, unmarried, white, well-educated voters in the Northeast and West who are extremely supportive of the progressive agenda – The Gospel Left: Mostly black party-line progressives who live in Southern cities but with God as their co-pilot fly rightward on social issues. The Conservative Base: – The Righteous Right: Middle-aged white voters in the South who use faith as their guide on gay marriage (bad), abortion (very bad), and programs for the poor (ok). – Talk Radio Heads: Alpha male conservatives who want government to ban abortion and support traditional marriage but otherwise stay out of our private lives.

32 Minivan Moderates: Mostly white suburbanite women clustered in the Midwest and South with pro-choice/anti-gun tendencies and a distrust of government. The MBA Middle: Mostly white, well-educated voters in upscale sections of the South and West who blend a don’t-tread-on-me streak with progressive social views. Pick-up Populists: Mostly white, low-income voters living in the South and Midwest who worry the economy is unfair and Washington is wasteful. WhateverMan: Very young and diverse voters in the Northeast and West who seem to lean left but are so politically “meh” it’s hard to tell.

33 Cynicism

34 Term Limits

35 Energy Independence

36 Less Government Regulation

37 Higher Taxes for the Rich

38 Military Isolationism

39 Diplomacy

40 Isolationism

41 Anti-Diversity

42 Pro Gay Rights

43 No Religion in Politics

44 Abortion Rights

45 Gun Control

46 The New Middle Political Regime? Term limits for federal office-holders, either through constitutional amendment or by overturning the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) which held that states may not term limit their members of congress. Energy independence which means more nuclear and oil (as well as green) production in the U.S. Less government regulation because government is wasteful, inefficient, and can’t balance a budget. Higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans to fund programs for all. Strong but less interventionist, if not isolationist, military and foreign policy. No more affirmative action, pro-voter ID laws, no path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (yet). Pro gay rights including gay marriage. No religion in politics. Pro abortion rights but with restrictions. Pro gun control through government regulation. Pro legalization of marijuana.

47 Party Realignment and the Next American Political Transformation The presidential candidate and party that adopts the preferences of the American center will be able to transform the current political landscape. It will mean shedding most if not all of the extreme views and elements of their party and recognizing and embracing a cynicism about old politics that drives a new kind of political activism that includes the preferences of the center. If American politics is cyclical, it will be a Democratic president who will change the party to fit with the preferences of the American center (e.g pro-term limits, less government regulation, end of affirmative action) and build a solid governing coalition for decades to come. After a period of discord and infighting, the GOP will have to shed its extreme elements (anti-tax, religious right, pro-life, homophobic, NRA, anti-drug) in order to remain viable in the new political era. In turn, the politics of division and dysfunction that currently dominates American politics will be swept away—but not before a transformative upheaval of the American political order that we already see the beginnings of.

48 Further Reading Skowronek, Stephen. The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton, rev. ed. Harvard University Press, 1997. Teles, Steven M. The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law. Princeton University Press, 2012.


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