Red and Blue America
By Hans Zeiger
I spent the past week driving with some friends across the country from the upper Midwest to California. It was a geographical overview of what political scientists call Red and Blue America (Republican and Democrat). Culturally and religiously, America is divided and has been for many years. As a reflection of that moral divide, in this election year, the political divisions are incontrovertibly intense.
In this campaign season, George W. Bush must be a conservative, and John Kerry must be a liberal, for such are the disparate identities of the people from whom the candidates will respectively anticipate their victories. It is a good thing that we will finally see some contrast in our presidential candidates, but it is an awful thing that the political divisions that motivate the contrast symbolize a deeper rift in the cultural life of America.
According to an article in Monday's Washington Post, the political mirroring of America's cultural divide is a mostly new phenomenon. Gone is the recent year of the conservative "Reagan Democrat" or the liberal "Rockefeller Republican"; those breeds still exist but they cannot control their parties. This too is a good thing, because parties ought to stick to a single platform.
And gone is the era of the Big Tent; parties are coming to recognize that they alienate more than they attract when they are wishy-washy and watered down.
Thus, for the first time in generations, the philosophical labels of liberal and conservative correspond with near precision to Democrat and Republican. University of California Los Angeles political scientist Hans Noel points out, "It has taken 40 or 50 years to work itself out, but the ideological division in America - which is not new - is now lined up with the party division."
Washington Post writer David Von Drehle reports that most American voters are fiercely committed to one party or another, even this early in the election cycle. According to Drehle, 70 percent of Americans can identify themselves with a candidate already. "From Congress to the airwaves to the best-seller lists, American politics appears to be hardening into uncompromising camps, increasingly identified with the two parties," writes Drehle. "Politics in red-blue America is less the art of compromise than a clash of cultures."
Far from being dominated by one party, American politics is split 50-50. It was split most certainly in 2000 when the election came down to a few hundred votes in Florida. And this year, polls consistently show a nearly equal split in support for Bush and Kerry. When one or the other candidate takes a lead in a nationwide poll, it is by a negligible percentage.
The same trend carries among young voters. According to a Newsweek poll of 351 voters aged 18 to 29, 44 percent of young Americans would vote for Kerry if the election were held today while a close 42 percent would vote for Bush.
Red and Blue America is not about to go away. Generation Next wants a political race that is cut and dry, candidates who are independently
minded, in other words, a real choice. I know this from the experience of youth political activism, and statistics in the Newsweek poll seem to verify it.
I'm no political scientist, so I'm not out to wage grand academic analysis of the American political scene. But I'm intrigued by the equalizing of Left and Right on the political spectrum. It is the age of conflict and controversy, something we haven't quite experienced perhaps since the Civil War.
The issues are no less critical than those of the Civil War. Abortion is our modern day slavery. Gay marriage is only in its nascent stage. Still, as in the days of the Civil War, we struggle to define the role of government in our nation. On our capacity to choose rightly in these matters, we will rise or fall.
Politics is as divided as the culture, and this generation is in for a big fight.