Brooks and Barone on Two Gridlocked Americas

Washington Post county-by-county election results

Well, one longtime question in the field of political science appears settled. Do campaigns make a difference, or do voters vote pretty much the way they would even if there were no campaigns? As Matt Ladner puts it: “The Obama campaign worked their math problem with masterful precision…The narrow national popular vote majority plus the lopsided electoral college result is a testament to the effectiveness of the Obama campaign.”

Worthwhile reflections from Michael Barone and Arthur Brooks on the election. Barone (written on election day before the results were known):

Bill Bishop highlighted the political consequences of this in his 2008 book “The Big Sort.” He noted that in 1976, only 27 percent of voters lived in counties carried by one presidential candidate by 20 percent or more. In 2004, nearly twice as many, 48 percent, lived in these landslide counties. That percentage may be even higher this year…

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.


With the Legislature divided on party lines and a president holding only a tenuous mandate, we have a recipe for gridlock…

Gridlock today is especially corrosive because of the enormity of the challenges we face—and the urgency of solving our problems…

Getting beyond gridlock, though, will require compromise. To some, this may sound like surrender. It need not be. For instance, pro-growth comprehensive tax reform that is revenue neutral (or even revenue reducing) can help grow the economy while decreasing the Byzantine complexity of America’s tax code. It may mean giving up some of the welfare transfers that the left loves and the deductions that the right loves; but each side will have to give up some sacred cows. It need not mean increasing tax rates of giving the government beast more sustenance.

But compromise on core principles is never acceptable. Ultimately, no compromise is worth making if it undermines free enterprise, allows the continued and unchecked expansion of the state, or furthers the notion that Washington can or should pick economic winners and losers. In other words, we can build on truths shared between parties and ideologies on policy issues. But we cannot have compromise between the majority who support American free enterprise and the minority who wish to see it fail.

Finding common ground on policy while standing firm on principle is the grand political tradition of our republic. Our founders, who were greatly divided on the important policy questions of their day from tariffs to federalism, did not waver in their commitment to limited government and individual liberty. The moral covenant between government and the people established by the Declaration of Independence and reflected in the immortal phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was not up for negotiation.

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