Rallycross D Essay 2 2012 Election

AFTER a panel discussion on the US elections hosted by a Dutch radio station the other night, I got to talking to a fellow American who's looking for work stateside. His Dutch government-funded job had been eliminated by austerity measures, so he was trying to convince his wife of the virtues of moving back to America. The main reason he was hesitating was the mood of vicious and increasingly entrenched political animosity. "Do you get the feeling," he asked, "that it could get violent?"

I said I didn't know. But it's certainly not a silly question. A recent broadcast of "This American Life", which focused on people who have lost close friends in recent years over politics, seemed to capture the mood pretty accurately. One sequence portrayed a student with a life-threatening pre-existing condition that until recently rendered him uninsurable, who has stopped talking to a conservative friend who refuses to support ObamaCare because he said it felt as though the friend didn't value his life. A conservative man describes being unable to continue talking to a former friend who supports a president he is convinced is destroying the country. Two sisters can't agree on who is being rude and condescending to whom after a furious falling-out over political philosophy.

Barack Obama has just won re-election, but America remains a country bitterly divided, as it has been for well over a decade. The divide is simultaneously very narrow in numerical terms, and gaping in ideological or partisan terms. This is what strikes one most strongly looking back at America from across an ocean: the country seems repeatedly embroiled in savage 51-49 electoral campaigns, and it seems to be increasingly paralysed by irresolvable rancour between right and left.

And think about it for a second: this is bizarre. If Americans are in fact divided between two extremely different political ideologies, it would be an extraordinary coincidence if each of those philosophies were to hold the allegiance of nearly equal blocs of support. That situation ought not to be stable. Adherence to these two ideologies ought to shift enough just due to demographics that the 50-50 split should deteriorate. And yet the even split seems to be stable. What's going on?

To put this another way, it's entirely logical to get a 50-50 split in a country where two relatively compatible political parties are competing for centrist votes. In a system governed by the logic of the median-voter theorem, one would expect to see the parties converging in policy terms to win the allegiance of voters in the centre. And you can even make a case that this is, in policy terms, what has happened in America. Realistic arguments over policy take place on relatively narrow terrain: they are arguments over a top marginal tax rate of 35% or 39.6%, over a health-insurance system with guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions but with or without a mandate, and so forth. But in ideological terms, this is not what the political divide looks like. Republicans construe the Democratic positions on these questions as socialism and international decline. Democrats construe the Republican positions as social darwinism and militant imperialism. How you do end up with a populace split evenly between these radical belief structures?

My basic take is that the stable, narrow, bitter partisan divide in America is a phenomenon driven by an interaction between two major players: the parties themselves, and the media. Political parties have achieved a staggering level of professionalism; the increasing availability of voter preference data and increasing sophistication of recruitment techniques in the age of information technology are likely to result in convergence between their abilities to secure their vote shares. The media, meanwhile, and this can't be repeated often enough, is overwhelmingly biased towards producing exciting political races. Horse-race reporting gives the media the collective ability to shape the kind of narrative it needs in order to report excitingly. The increasing interaction between mass media and social media seems only to exacerbate this tendency: both mass-media analysts and private social-media contributors are rewarded for sharply divisive characterisations. We're seeing market segmentation in which a number of players have an interest in keeping the segments at equal sizes.

But most people don't view the increase in partisanship as a morally neutral, structural phenomenon in which they're being driven into two camps by organisational forces. And they don't see the policy argument as being a narrow one. The suspicion on both sides is that, while the results in policy terms if the other side wins the election may not be catastrophic, the other side's true aim is a vision of America that is anathema to one's own. And this leads to a social antipathy that can be quite profound. It increasingly takes a conscious effort for Democrats and Republicans to be socially at ease with each other. There is an increasing level of outright hostility; on the Republican side especially, the arguments that have been deployed to rally opposition to the enemy's agenda provide intellectual support for violent resistance.

Setting aside the policy issues we're facing over the next four years, I think the most immediate need is for Americans to find a way to live civilly with each other. "This American Life" brought on a pair of writers, liberal Phil Neisser and conservative Jacob Hess, who've written a book ("You're Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You're Still Wrong)") about their efforts to find a way to talk to each other and agree to disagree on fundamental philosophical and moral issues. There need to be a lot more similar efforts along these lines. This election has put Barack Obama back in office, and returned him a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. Over the next four years, legislative battles are going to continue to be savage and hard-fought. Neither conservatives nor liberals are going to change their minds en masse about fundamental issues of political philosophy. The top priority is for Americans to figure out a way to keep these divisions from dividing the country into two hostile armed camps that are incapable of talking to each other.

(Photo credit: AFP)

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  2012 Presidential Election Speeches and Remarks

ActorDateTitle
Barack ObamaJuly 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Parma, Ohio
Barack ObamaJuly 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Sandusky, Ohio
Barack ObamaJuly 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Maumee, Ohio
Barack ObamaJuly 6, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Barack ObamaJuly 6, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Poland, Ohio
Barack ObamaJuly 10, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Cedar Rapids
Barack ObamaJuly 10, 2012Remarks to an Overflow Crowd at a Campaign Rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Barack ObamaJuly 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Hampton, Virginia
Barack ObamaJuly 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Roanoke, Virginia
Barack ObamaJuly 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Virginia Beach, Virginia
Barack ObamaJuly 14, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Clifton, Virginia
Barack ObamaJuly 14, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Glen Allen, Virginia
Barack ObamaJuly 16, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally and a Question-and-Answer Session in Cincinnati, Ohio
Barack ObamaJuly 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Austin, Texas
Barack ObamaJuly 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in San Antonio, Texas
Barack ObamaJuly 19, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Jacksonville, Florida
Barack ObamaJuly 19, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in West Palm Beach, Florida
Barack ObamaJuly 23, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Oakland, California
Barack ObamaJuly 24, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Portland, Oregon
Barack ObamaJuly 25, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in New Orleans, Louisiana
Barack ObamaAugust 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Akron, Ohio
Barack ObamaAugust 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Mansfield, Ohio
Barack ObamaAugust 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Leesburg, Virginia
Barack ObamaAugust 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Winter Park, Florida
Barack ObamaAugust 8, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Grand Junction, Colorado
Barack ObamaAugust 8, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Denver, Colorado
Barack ObamaAugust 9, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Pueblo, Colorado
Barack ObamaAugust 9, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Barack ObamaAugust 12, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Chicago, Illinois
Barack ObamaAugust 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Boone, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 14, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Marshalltown, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 14, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Oskaloosa, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 14, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Waterloo, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 15, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Davenport, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 15, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Dubuque, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 18, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Windham, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaAugust 18, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Rochester, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaAugust 21, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Columbus, Ohio
Barack ObamaAugust 21, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Reno, Nevada
Barack ObamaAugust 22, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in North Las Vegas
Barack ObamaAugust 28, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Ames, Iowa
Barack ObamaAugust 28, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Fort Collins, Colorado
Barack ObamaAugust 29, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia
Barack ObamaSeptember 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Urbandale, Iowa
Barack ObamaSeptember 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Sioux City, Iowa
Barack ObamaSeptember 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Boulder, Colorado
Barack ObamaSeptember 3, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Toledo, Ohio
Barack ObamaSeptember 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Norfolk, Virginia
Barack ObamaSeptember 7, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaSeptember 7, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Iowa City, Iowa
Barack ObamaSeptember 8, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Seminole, Florida
Barack ObamaSeptember 8, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Kissimmee, Florida
Barack ObamaSeptember 9, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Melbourne, Florida
Barack ObamaSeptember 9, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in West Palm Beach, Florida
Barack ObamaSeptember 12, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada
Barack ObamaSeptember 13, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Golden, Colorado
Barack ObamaSeptember 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Cincinnati, Ohio
Barack ObamaSeptember 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Columbus, Ohio
Barack ObamaSeptember 21, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Woodbridge, Virginia
Barack ObamaSeptember 22, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Barack ObamaSeptember 22, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Milwaukee
Barack ObamaSeptember 26, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Bowling Green, Ohio
Barack ObamaSeptember 26, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Kent, Ohio
Barack ObamaSeptember 27, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Virginia Beach, Virginia
Barack ObamaSeptember 30, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada
Barack ObamaOctober 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Madison, Wisconsin
Barack ObamaOctober 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Denver
Barack ObamaOctober 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Fairfax, Virginia
Barack ObamaOctober 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Cleveland, Ohio
Barack ObamaOctober 7, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Los Angeles, California
Barack ObamaOctober 8, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in San Francisco
Barack ObamaOctober 9, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Columbus, Ohio
Barack ObamaOctober 11, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Miami, Florida
Barack ObamaOctober 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Athens, Ohio
Barack ObamaOctober 17, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Mount Vernon, Iowa
Barack ObamaOctober 18, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Manchester, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaOctober 19, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Fairfax, Virginia
Barack ObamaOctober 23, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Delray Beach, Florida
Barack ObamaOctober 23, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Dayton, Ohio
Barack ObamaOctober 24, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Las Vegas, Nevada
Barack ObamaOctober 24, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Davenport, Iowa
Barack ObamaOctober 24, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Denver, Colorado
Barack ObamaOctober 25, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Richmond, Virginia
Barack ObamaOctober 25, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Tampa, Florida
Barack ObamaOctober 25, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Cleveland, Ohio
Barack ObamaOctober 27, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Nashua, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaNovember 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin
Barack ObamaNovember 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in North Las Vegas, Nevada
Barack ObamaNovember 1, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Boulder, Colorado
Barack ObamaNovember 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Lima, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Hilliard, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 2, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Springfield
Barack ObamaNovember 2, 2012Remarks to an Overflow Crowd at a Campaign Rally in Springfield, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 3, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Dubuque, Iowa
Barack ObamaNovember 3, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Mentor, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 3, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Barack ObamaNovember 3, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Bristow, Virginia
Barack ObamaNovember 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Denver, Colorado
Barack ObamaNovember 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Hollywood, Florida
Barack ObamaNovember 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Cincinnati, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 4, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Concord, New Hampshire
Barack ObamaNovember 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Des Moines, Iowa
Barack ObamaNovember 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Columbus, Ohio
Barack ObamaNovember 5, 2012Remarks at a Campaign Rally in Madison, Wisconsin


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