November election may widen America’s political divide

October 14, 2010


— Dipping back into conversation in the capital on a brief break from the campaign trail, I heard members of Congress, lobbyists and political operatives stewing about one topic above all others: What happens if this election blows up the center of American politics?

On both sides, they seem to accept the inevitability of significant Democratic losses, although one former party chairman, enjoying a holiday on the Nile, told me by phone that he thinks the Democrats might still retain their majority in the House and Senate.

But he was no less worried about the prospects for President Obama’s government than any of the others I interviewed. The common fear is that the swing to the right that everyone expects on Nov. 2 will include such wild gyrations and produce such untried novices that the partisan warfare of the past two years will seem mild by comparison.

Bill Galston, the Brookings Institution’s resident political philosopher, was the first of the day to point out that, statistically speaking, the center had already disappeared. He was referring to the congressional voting studies, which I have previously cited, showing that, apparently for the first time, there is no overlap between the most liberal Republican in the House and the most conservative Democrat when it comes to roll-call votes.

Historically, there have always been a few Republicans who voted often with the Democrats and a few more Democrats who lined up regularly with the Republicans. But now the ideological lines are more sharply drawn and the distance between the parties is greater.

What I found here on my return from a reporting trip to the Midwest was a widespread expectation that the gulf will be expanded by the election results. Obviously, we don’t know who will emerge as winners. But there has been so much focus on some of the Republican primaries, where solid conservatives have been upset by men and women even further to the right, that the stereotype of a Party of Sarah Palins is understandable.

The notion may be misguided. Surely some of the challengers whose credentials look most questionable will be stopped short of victory. And others whose opening comments seemed inflammatory may be doused with practicality along the way.

Nonetheless, what has dawned on official Washington is that one of our great political parties — Republican — has undergone much more than the normal between-elections transition. And the other — Democrat — is having a helluva struggle adjusting to the change.

The Democrats oscillate between depicting their Republican opponents as know-nothing radicals, with barely a fragmentary libertarian view of government, or as pawns of a sophisticated Wall Street financial combine. They are happiest when the opponent permits them to dress him in Nazi garb.

The Republican leaders have to take the question of who these people are much more seriously, because these freshmen will soon be sitting in and calling signals for their caucuses. The fact that so many of them are being financed in their races by new non-party, interest-group political operations makes the options for wild political swings even greater.

I don’t foresee a challenge to Mitch McConnell or John Boehner for the GOP leadership in the Senate or House when the new classes gather in Washington. But I see a clear test ahead for those leaders.

This is not ultimately a radical nation, and those Republicans who are in love with radical notions of remaking the society to fit their own philosophy will have to be brought back in touch with reality.

When a party fails to do that, it can find the seeds of its own destruction in the victory banquet. Republicans, and the country, deserve better.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


statesman 3 years, 6 months ago

As far as I'm concerned, Kansans, being the faithful Republicans they are, are getting exactly what they deserve -- good 'ol boys hellbent on destroying the environment, the middle class, and equal rights. Turning this state and country into a Christian theocracy. And people wonder why I have developed an intense hatred of this country's government.


camper 3 years, 6 months ago

"Funny how it's the other guy who won't compromise". I believe the democrats have compromized too much. Because of this we got a watered down health care reform that might prove to be far too complex to do much good, and make our health care coverage even more confusing. We also got a watered down stimulus. Other countries in Eurpoe and Asia are recovering from the Recession much quicker because they went full throttle. It might have been better to have little or no stimulus if we were not commited to it.

And as I recall, the Democrats did compromise under Bush. Especially when it came to use of force in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to national security. There were a few voices who opposed like Phil Donahue, Gary Hart, and Barbara Reed, but they were shouted down. Donahue was even cancelled by the "liberal biased" MSNBC for warning against the invasion of Iraq.

Of course a lot of us were duped, back in the early 2000's, but it is a disgrace to go back and watch some news clips of these news commentators. If they were so wrong back then, why should we believe them now. Especially on economic matters.


itwasthedukes 3 years, 6 months ago

Make no mistake the right is simply trying to pull things back to the center and sometimes you have to start with a stronger position to get to the middle. In the past the right has started in a compromised position which inherently moves things slowly left.


Fangorn 3 years, 6 months ago

"This is not ultimately a radical nation, and those Republicans who are in love with radical notions of remaking the society to fit their own philosophy will have to be brought back in touch with reality.

When a party fails to do that, it can find the seeds of its own destruction in the victory banquet. "

Is it even possible that Mr. Broder is that dense? Which party has been in power the last four years with "radical notions of remaking the society to fit their own philosophy"? I assert that the coming election is the "be[ing] brought back to reality" that the Democrats so desperately need, and that it was the fawning, messianic overtones of the media's coverage of Barry's inaugeration (coronation?) that were the real harbingers of his downfall.


notajayhawk 3 years, 6 months ago

"November election may widen America’s political divide"

One can only hope. Lately I have felt a string need to get as far away as possible from the respected members of the opposing party.


CorkyHundley 3 years, 6 months ago

The shovel ready Obama was touted as the great uniter. He will bring people together. He is a nobel peace prize, shovel ready transformer that will spread the shovel ready issues to unite us all. I can still feel his stimulus.


Liberty_One 3 years, 6 months ago

This is good for Americans. When they agree and work together is when we are most at danger.


toe 3 years, 6 months ago

Polarization is inevitable when the pie is getting smaller.


Tom Shewmon 3 years, 6 months ago

The fact is, more indies and repubs are going to come out and vote possibly than ever before. Democrats really have no option at this juncture other than to have a "wait and see" attitude. Last night's debate between Coons and O'Donnell was despicable: one conservative and three committed liberals. Who does Wolf Blitzer think he is? He makes me want to vomit. And who in the wide world of sports is this whats-er-name school marm obvious foaming at the mouth liberal sitting beside Wolf and moderating. And it really wasn't moderating----as usual, these liberal jerks can not hide their liberal political leanings just even for a 1 - 1/2 hour debate. Angle and Reid go at tonight----can't wait to see that spectacle. What liberal zealot will "moderate" this one?


beatrice 3 years, 6 months ago

"They are happiest when the opponent permits them to dress him in Nazi garb."

Okay, that was funny. Politics brings out some strange individuals.


grammaddy 3 years, 6 months ago

Don't count your chickens before they hatch.


cato_the_elder 3 years, 6 months ago

More sour grapes from Broder, who hates the thought of no longer hobnobbing with RINOS and shudders at the prospect of people who are capable, intelligent, successful Americans running Congress instead of slick career politicians in both parties who could never have made it outside the world of politics.


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