Nov 18, 2012
Michael Barone write in The National Review, Two Americas, 11/7/12
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, 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 who are seen as typical Americans but 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.
Finding the proper balance of government power and individual liberty will continue to drive our political discourse.