You know who won the election (or whether we face another Florida 2000), and as I write I don’t.
But whether Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term or Mitt Romney is elected the 45th president, the contours of their support during this fiercely fought campaign show that we live in Two Americas.
The culturally cohesive America of the 1950s that some of us remember, usually glossing over racial segregation and the civil rights movement, is no longer with us and hasn’t been for some time.
That was an America of universal media, in which everyone watched one of three similar TV channels and newscasts every night. Radio, 1930s and 1940s movies, and 1950s and early 1960s television painted a reasonably true picture of what was typically American.
That’s not the America we live in now. Niche media has replaced universal media.
One America listens to Rush Limbaugh; the other to NPR. Each America has its favorite cable news channel. As for entertainment, Americans have 100-plus cable channels to choose from, and the Internet provides many more options.
Bill Bishop highlighted the political consequences of this in his 2008 book, “The Big Sort.” He noted that in 1976 only 27 percent of voters lived in counties carried by one presidential candidate by 20 percent or more. In 2004, nearly twice as many, 48 percent, lived in these landslide counties. That percentage may be even higher this year.
We’re more affluent than we were in the 1950s (if you don’t think so, try doing without your air conditioning, microwaves, smartphones and Internet connections). And we have used this affluence to seal ourselves off in the America of our choosing while trying to ignore the other America.
We tend to choose the America that is culturally congenial. Most people in the San Francisco Bay area wouldn’t consider living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, even for much better money. Most Metroplexers would never relocate to the Bay Area.
There are plenty of smart and creative and successful people in both Americas. But they don’t like to mix with each other these days.
They especially don’t like to talk about politics and the cultural issues that, despite the prominence of economic concerns today, have largely determined our political allegiances over the last two decades.
One America tends to be traditionally religious, personally charitable, appreciative of entrepreneurs and suspicious of government. The other tends to be secular or only mildly religious, less charitable on average, skeptical of business and supportive of government as an instrument to advance liberal causes.
The more conservative America tends to be relatively cohesive. Evangelical Protestants and white Catholics make common cause; the 17th century religious wars are over. Southern or Northern accents don’t much matter.
That’s typical of the Republican Party, which has always had core support from people seen as typical Americans but who are not by themselves a majority in our always diverse country.
The more liberal America tends to be diverse. Like Obama’s 2008 coalition, it includes many at the top and at the bottom of the economic ladder.
That’s typical of the Democratic Party, a coalition of disparate groups – immigrant Catholics and white Southerners long ago, blacks and gentry liberals today.
Ronald Reagan, speaking the language of the old, universal popular culture, could appeal to both Americas. His successors, not so much. Barack Obama, after an auspicious start, has failed to do so.
As a result, there are going to be many Americans profoundly unhappy with the result of this election, whichever way it goes. Those on the losing side will be especially angry with those whose candidate won.
Americans have faced this before. This has been a culturally diverse land from its colonial beginnings. The mid-20th century cultural cohesiveness was the exception, not the rule.
We used to get along by leaving each other alone. The Founders established a limited government, neutral on religion, allowing states, localities and voluntary associations to do much of society’s work. Even that didn’t always work: We had a Civil War.
An enlarged federal government didn’t divide mid-20th century Americans, except on civil rights issues. Otherwise, there was general agreement about the values government should foster.
Now the Two Americas disagree, sharply. Government decisions enthuse one and enrage the other. The election may be over, but the Two Americas are still not on speaking terms.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
© 2012 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
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You know who won the election (or whether we face another Florida 2000), and as I write I don’t.
The Case of the Unhappy Robber
Norton, a professional burglar, looked upon himself as a kind of Robin Hood. The difference was that he took from the rich and kept it for himself. As a result, he spent more time in the slammer than he did in Sherwood Forest.
The toughest blow he suffered, however, was inflicted by the commissioner of motor vehicles. Upon Norton’s release from jail for the umpteenth time, the hard-hearted commissioner revoked his driver’s license.
Dream becomes reality only when you persevere
A young boy grew up in Berea, in a family that was blessed with a variety of musical talents.
His mother was a member of a female group who performed onstage regularly at Renfro Valley, in Rockcastle County.
This young man would routinely attend shows to watch his mother, and other artists, perform on stage. He was eager to learn from them every chance he could. He knew from a young age he wanted to pursue a career in the music industry and was willing to seek advice and mentoring from those who were experienced in the industry.
SOAR-ing in eastern Kentucky
By the time many of you read this, I’ll be traveling to southeastern Kentucky, on my way to the SOAR Summit scheduled for Monday in Pikeville (at least if the weather cooperates).
I’ll be listening to WMMT radio out of Whitesburg, the world’s most eclectic radio station. I’ll be among those magic mountains and with the wonderful people who live in the region and others who don’t but still love it.
If you don’t know eastern Kentucky, get rid of your stereotypes right now. Yes, there are poor, ignorant people in eastern Kentucky — just as there are in New York City, San Francisco or London, England.
Farming Misunderstood and Under-appreciated
As you look at your (I hope) full plate this Thanksgiving, take a guess at what percentage of your annual income you spend on food.
Whatever you guessed, you probably guessed too high.
“We pay as low as 6 percent,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, tells me at a conference table in his office. “In most other industrialized countries, it’s 20-25 percent.”
And if you were spending that much on food in America, Vilsack asks, “how big a house would you have? How nice a car?”
Recalling the day JKF died
This is written on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A year ago I demonstrated my exquisite sense of timing: I wrote my personal remembrance of that dark day in Dallas last year on the 49th anniversary of the horrific events in Dealey Plaza.
Is the pipeline to career advancement broken?
“Honey, have you checked our financials this month?” An individual asks their spouse.
“Yes, and it’s not looking good. Our investments aren’t growing like we’d hoped, and the healthcare crisis is affecting the premiums and co-pays we’re paying every month,” replies the spouse.
The individual asks another question, “Do you think we’ll ever be able to retire?”
The spouse shakes their head and replies, “It doesn’t appear we’ll have that option anytime soon, especially if we want to maintain the lifestyle we have now.”
Life Lessons from lawyers, journalists and 10 years as a columnist
I have little in common with Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned drug lord in the TV series Breaking Bad, but the line about his motivation hit me.
In the decade that I wrote a weekly column, I touched a lot of lives.
At least one man stopped his planned suicide and got help after reading my column. (I still hear from him and he is doing fine.)
Register columnists share room for a day at Telford rehab center
So here we are, coming to you still alive from Telford Terrace Rehabilitation Center in Richmond where I am recovering from two strokes that kept me in St. Joseph’s Lexington Hospital for the better part of last week.
I was transferred to Telford where I intend to learn to walk again.
Memo to Merkel: Tell Obama to Take a Hike
Chutzpah. I believe that’s the word for it.
Just days after learning the Americans have been tapping her phones and taping her conversations, Angela Merkel has been publicly upbraided by the U.S. Treasury for being a bad global citizen.
What did she do to deserve this?
Congressionally Duped Americans
Last week’s column, “Is There a Way Out?”, generated quite a few responses, some a bit angry. Some people were offended by my reference to Social Security and Medicare as entitlements or handouts. They said that they worked for 45 years and paid into Social Security and Medicare and how dare I refer to the money they now receive as an entitlement. These people have been duped by Congress and shouldn’t be held totally accountable for such a belief. Let’s examine the plethora of congressional Social Security lies. I’ll leave the Medicare lies for another column.
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