Paranoia runs deep in American politics these days. So many on both sides of our gaping cultural divide are willing to believe the most heinous things about their fellow citizens that I am surprised the Republic still stands at all. The detrimental impact of fear on our nation is rather obvious when the adrenal glands super-charge our systems in preparation for fight or flight responses. Every political statement becomes hyperbolic chest-beating since fear is at the root of most aggressive or violent outbursts.
One obvious question remains as this behavior surfaces again and again: Is there really anything to fear from political rivals?
For democrats, the republican party is doing such a good job of self-destructing that fear is the last response I would expect. Pity might be more appropriate. Most republicans I speak to, both here on TPM and elsewhere, are pretty much committed to finding new representation by way of next year’s primaries. There are republican candidates appearing at all levels to fulfill that emerging need. The same trend is underway in the democratic party as well, though it is a bit tougher to see since liberals have always been pretty consistent with their message if not the ultimate delivery of those promises.
I am working to see a more authentically conservative republican party (think Teddy rather than Ronnie) emerge over the coming years to face a more innovative democratic party (think FDR instead of Clinton) with both parties crafting solutions a majority of the country can support at the grassroots, thus making the changes more sustainable. This is the reason Social Security and Medicare have withstood most assaults since they passed into law, even those reforms that tried to evolve the system into something more useful in our era of growing economic instability.
Solidarity can move mountains.
Which brings us back to fear. The simmering hostility on both sides of the political divide seems largely driven by that most reactive of emotions. As the rhetoric heats up, the silent majority goes straight back to sleep and changing Washington DC becomes impossible to sustain beyond nibbling at the edges in a see-saw battle for control that rarely leads in a new direction. How is it that fear has become such a dominant factor in our politics? Can a country divided by fear and apathy really survive?
I think not.
Given the political dynamics in this country, I think there are a number of mistaken assumptions that continue to keep us divided because the expectations of partisan players is out of line with how this country can actually be moved to change. Unlike 1932 when FDR and the democratic party were swept into power, today’s party affiliation is much more subtle and diffuse. The electorate is nearly divided in thirds, with independents the fastest growing block of voters and basically split between the two major parties. The country is basically divided down the middle, yet many liberals continue to think some new mass Exodus is underway amongst conservatives that will lead to a third party or FDR-era majorities for the democratic party.
Such misreading of the electorate could have deadly consequences for the fairly progressive, though admittedly centrist, agenda Obama laid out during the campaign.