By: James Smith
We all know that the partisan battles being waged in Washington right now are as severe as they’ve ever been -- a truth hammered home by the last month’s resignation of Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who cited her frustration with partisan intransigence as a central reason for her decision not to seek another term. But how did we get to this point? The Daily Lounge recaps the disappearance of moderate politics in recent American history:
Ronald Reagan -- The seeds of the current partisan divide were really sown by the election campaign of Ronald Reagan, who (brilliantly, it must be said) succeeded in building a coalition that allied traditional conservative fiscal policy with Southern evangelicalism. At the time, that coalition swept Reagan to a relatively easy victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980, when he won all but five states, and a landslide over Walter Mondale in 1984, when he lost only one state. Many contemporary conservatives still view Reagan as their guiding light.
Contested Elections and Middle Eastern Ventures -- Though the alliance that Reagan created remained powerful through the Presidencies of Bush Sr and Clinton, it still always takes two to tango -- and tango they did during the Presidency of George Bush Jr. There was bad blood from the beginning, with a contentious election that saw the Supreme Court ultimately deciding the winner. The fact that Al Gore won the plurality of votes led to many Democrats discrediting the new administration from Day 1, a position that only grew more and more vocal with each time that the Bush administration did anything that they disapproved of. To be fair, the administration didn’t mind giving them plenty to chew on, with Dick Cheney spending much of his time apparently getting ready to audition for the role of Darth Vader and the President committing to two wars in the face of popular opinion.
McCain / Lieberman / Palin -- In the midst of all this came the ugly 2008 Presidential election. Though it initially looked like it would be a civilized campaign, featuring a cool-headed intellectual in Barack Obama taking on John McCain, who was known for his willingness to cross party lines. Unfortunately, the narrative went far from the path, with McCain apparently deciding that the only way he could win the election was by playing as dirty as possible. He also brought Sarah Palin and her brand of aww-shucks grassroots conservatism to a national stage when he selected her as his running mate. Perhaps no moment did more to solidify the growing partisan divide, however, than Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman’s decision to cross party lines and endorse McCain for President. That decision led to his being, for practical purposes, thrown out of his own party (he failed to win the Democratic nomination in his ensuing Senate race) and amped up the degree of vitriol on both sides.
- Economic Crisis, Tea Parties, and Occupations -- The event that really brought us to the current combative divide, though, was the 2008 financial crisis, which galvanized millions of Americans on both ends of the political spectrum into action. Reeling from their loss in the election, conservatives were the first to have this coalesce, with the Sarah Palin-inspired Tea Party movement the result. The Tea Party gave a voice -- and immense clout -- to those seeking radical conservative reform, including lower taxes and reductions in government programs. On the liberal side, meanwhile, concerns about income inequality and the example of power shifts arising from the Arab Spring gave birth last year to the Occupy movement. And, with voters demanding greater ideological purity from their elected officials, moderate voices seeking compromise were forced out, chose to leave of their accord, or moved further to the extreme in order to be more in line with their constituents (see: Romney, Willard Mitt).
The result of all that? An impotent Congress, a marked decline in cross-party cooperation, and a grim outlook for the immediate future.
[Pic via Flickr - LaMenta3]