Columnist who coined red and blue states says nation more divided now

Pundit David Brooks 'paralyzed' in trying to pick president

Early on, David Brooks, arguably one the nation’s best-known political pundits, figured John Kerry would beat President Bush.

“This is a president who went to war — a war that is not going well. People are dying. There were no weapons of mass destruction. It’s a mess,” Brooks said in a meeting with reporters Thursday at the Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University.

“When that happens, the assumption is the president loses.”

But the polls show Bush and Kerry in a dead heat. And that, Brooks said, means a lot is going on below the radar.

“It’s uncanny. Today’s electorate looks very much like it did in 2000,” he said. “We’ve been through 9-11, two wars, a recession, and we’ve had 10 million people move to this country and become citizens. Everything has changed, except the electorate. Why is that?”

Brooks, a conservative, twice-a-week columnist for The New York Times and a regular guest on public television’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” later led a discussion at Budig Hall. His appearance is part of the university’s 2004 Kansas Economic Policy Conference: Free Trade, Agriculture and Global Development.

The two-day conference, which began Thursday, is being simulcast in Ulysses.

Voters are becoming increasingly segmented, said Brooks, who, before the 2000 election, hatched the concept of dividing the nation into red states and blue states.

“The red states are getting redder,” he said. “The blue states are getting bluer.”

More than ever, he said, voters are surrounding themselves with media they agree with.

“Some people watch FOX and they love it,” he said. “Others watch MSNBC or listen to NPR. Both are being told what they want to hear.”

This segmentation, he said, has blurred the lines between politics and news.

“Now we find ourselves with news organizations deciding whether to run stories because they do or do not want to influence the election,” Brooks said, citing recent criticism of The New York Times for putting the story about the 380 tons of explosive missing in Iraq on its front page.

“Republicans are outraged,” he said. “The munitions have been missing for a year. But here it is, a week before the election, and the story runs on the front page.”

At the same time, ABC News stands accused of sitting on a story about a videotape in which al-Qaida threatens renewed attacks on the United States.

ABC ran the story Thursday. It obtained the tape the previous Friday.

“ABC was wrong to hold it,” Brooks said.

Brooks declined to predict the outcome of next week’s presidential election.

“I’ve gone back and forth so many times. Now, I find myself paralyzed by ignorance,” he said. “I don’t know.”