RED AND BLUE WITH RACE ALL OVER: We’re all the same, Obama said!


Part 1—Fred Hiatt begs to differ: Is American becoming a nation of tribes? With a red tribe opposing a blue tribe?

Fred Hiatt says we are becoming a nation of tribes. And he thinks that’s a lousy development.

At the start of his recent column, Hiatt recalls what Obama said on the evening he became famous. Obama’s claims are less and less true, the columnist glumly declares:

HIATT (4/22/13): A red state/blue state chasm

In the week since modest gun control died in the Senate, those of us who don’t think guns make the country safer have been inclined to blame a few cowardly senators whose votes could have shifted the outcome.

Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than that. Contrary to what then-Sen. Barack Obama told us in his inspiring breakout speech to the Democratic convention of 2004, there is a blue America and a red America. And the colors have been deepening over the decade since Obama spoke.
Back in 2004, Obama stressed the values held in common by those in so-called red and blue states. “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states,” he said.

“We coach little league in the blue states. And yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states.”

Obama’s claims about shared values produced an amazing response that night. Yesterday morning, nine years later, Hiatt said the nation has drifted strongly away from this hopeful vision:
HIATT: Journalist Bill Bishop coined the phrase “the big sort” in 2004 to describe the increasing political homogeneity of American living patterns. It comes as no surprise that some 60 percent of households in Montana own guns, compared with 13 percent in Rhode Island; or that, with similar populations, Missouri has six abortion providers and Maryland 34.

But the red-state/blue-state fissure seems to be turning into a chasm in the months since President Obama won reelection. After the Newtown massacre, Connecticut and Maryland enacted sweeping bans on assault weapons and other gun-control measures. South Dakota enacted a bill authorizing school employees to carry guns.
Hiatt listed other social issues concerning which the red and blue states are drifting sharply apart. But “the chasm doesn’t run only through social issues,” he said, noting the way some blue state governors are engineering tax and spending increases while governors in red states are cutting to the bone.

“There are still a handful of purple states,” Hiatt declared. But he noted that “only four (Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina) were decided by five percentage points or fewer” in the 2012 election.

That strikes us as a surprising statistic, especially since the overall vote was reasonably close. In Campaign 2000, there were twelve such states, with Maine and Michigan ticking in at 5.1 percent.

Is the nation sharply dividing into the red and the blue? “The encouraging news, if there is any,” Hiatt says, “is that these patterns aren’t as immutable as they were...before the Civil War.”

We take that to mean that there isn’t much encouraging news on the red/blue tribal front.

It’s hard to maintain a continental nation without succumbing to tribal division. There will always be regional culture in a nation as large as this one. (You could ask the Soviet Union, except it no longer exists.) At times when the center ceases to hold, cultural clashes can tear at the fabric of the society, can leave it unable to function.

For that reason, sensible people should look for ways to permit the center to hold. With that in mind, we’ve been struck by the way certain parts of our own blue tribe have performed in the last week.

Hiatt wrote his gloomy column in the wake of the failed gun bill. As he began, he lamented the “cowardly” conduct of those who voted the “red America” way.

For ourselves, we’re not sure we liberals have done a good job deciding who exhibited “courage.” Did Pat Toomey exhibit courage, for instance, as so many have said? Or was his stance a smart political move for a hard-right senator in a blue-to-purplish state?

Whatever! There is no doubt that regional culture played a strong role in the gun safety fight. But we’ve been more struck this past week by the way the two tribes have fought about race in the wake of the bombing in Boston.

In the wake of the bombing in Boston, predictable political fights have broken out around the web. In these fights, various people in red and blue tribes have argued in rather predictable ways about matters concerning race.

In the next few days, we’re going to consider the arguments made by some leaders in our own tribe. As always, some red tribe players have made silly claims—but what about people like us?

When the center fails to hold, that can be a dangerous thing. We saw that in the 1860s, then again a hundred years later.

It’s easy to mock the other tribe as the tribes pull away from each other. But how have our tribal leaders performed?

In the days since Boston was bombed, much of the public discourse has been red against blue with race all over. Starting tomorrow, we will ask:

How well has our tribe performed?

Tomorrow: Instant nut-picking


  1. "You could ask the Soviet Union, except it no longer exists."

    And it wasn't a nation, but let's not split hairs.

    The fact that it no longer exists should be telling us something but, of course, is not.

  2. IMHO, the spread between the two "tribes" has gotten wider. I think the main reason is that liberals from Mr. Obama on down have increasingly demonized conservatives.

    E.g., Hiatt didn't say that Senators may have voted against the gun control bill because of privacy concerns, or because the bill was impractical, or because it wouldn't help much. He didn't say that some blue state liberals may have voted for gun control because that was the safest way for them to vote. No, he said conservatives senators voted against the bill because they're "cowardly."

    This particular smear came directly from the President. It's been widely repeated. On google, "gun control" cowards gets 18 million hits.

    Another example: Bob Somerby actually repeated baseless speculation that conservatives were responsible for the Boston Marathon bombs. Those smears were fairly widespread, although an Australian newspaper outdid the American media on this gratuitous defamation.

    E.g. race: Bob has documented that conservatives are routinely called "racists" when they disagree with President Obama. Yet, that cheap shot isn't applied to liberals who disagree with Clarence Thomas, or even to liberals who insult him.

    Dealing from memory, I think the current White House has perpetrated these attacks more than the Clinton White House did. Although Mr. Obama promised to bring us together, I believe he has behaved in a way that drives us apart.

    1. Those of us who criticized the Iraq War were called traitors, but yeah, it's probably worse now thanks to Obama. (LOL)


  3. Shorter D in C: "It's the other tribe's fault." Nice.

  4. This was my comment at The Post on Fred Hiatt's pathetically shallow column:


    Fred Hiatt still doesn't get it. I'm not sure he even reads his own paper.

    The "problem" is essentially twofold:

    1. The country was sold a false bill of goods –– called supply-side economics –– about thirty years ago. Ronald Reagan popularized it, and it was an abject failure. Budget and trade deficits soared, and the national debt ballooned. Reagan foisted some of the cost off on working Americans. Indeed, "While wealthy Americans benefitted from Reagan's tax policies, blue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in." George W. Bush resurrected it, let Wall Street run wild, and it broke the economy. Meanwhile, corporation and the rich profited handsomely. And Republicans now want even MORE of it. They DEMAND it.

    2. Over the last thirty years Republicans purged moderates from their party. It is now the repository for extreme, right-wing conservatism. As Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein noted recently: "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."

    While the "problem" is centered in Washington, it extends also to the states. Right-wing media, led by Fox, and Limbaugh, exacerbate it, and the mainstream press –– including The Post –– do an awfully poor job of reporting it.

    The real problem is right-wing extremism, and those who support it.

    P.S. Fred: when are you going to apologize for endorsing the war in Iraq?

    P.P.S. @ David in Cal:

    Surely you jest.

    Conservatives in the Republican party today deserve to be "demonized." Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two of the most respected Congressional scholars in the country recently wrote this in The Post:

    "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."

    Yep. They deserve it.

  5. Berto, George W. Bush never called Democrats "traitors" or "cowards" or insulted them in any other way. So, yes cacambo, it really is only the other tribe's President who talks this way.

    1. I don't care about his policies. What would Miss Manners think of him?

    2. DinC: entitled to his opinion but not his own facts.

      Bush dismissively referred to anti-Iraq war protestors, which included Democrats and non-Democrats alike, as merely a "focus group." He didn't have to call the war opponents cowardly or traitorous since his supporters in the media and online, including those to whom DinC routinely refer to as authority, did that for him.

      I may be wrong, but I don't recall Obama ever calling opponents of his policy traitors. Maybe DinC has contrary evidence that he has - let's see it. As for the cowardice in failing to place some limits on the ready access to weapons whose primary purpose is to kill and maim crowds of people, Obama is 100% correct in calling bullshit on Congress. Finally, people like this "retired actuary" illustrate the futility of both Somerby and Obama's contention that people on the right can be reasoned with if only they were provided the facts in a non-tribal forum. Under today's discourse, finding the center on an issue can only mean sliding over more and more to the right, and as demonstrated over the past few years, doing so will simply engender the response that "it's not enough."

    3. I've never seen a time when the rhetoric was this bad. On both sides.

      From immigration to guns to gay marriage to taxes...etc, it's utter character assassination.

      ti's appalling. It's destructive. It's infantile.

  6. AnonymousApril 23, 2013 at 2:14 PM, your quote doesn't indicate that Republicans deserve to be demonized. Mann and Ornstein merely opined that Washington gridlock is mostly the fault of Republicans. But, in no way did they imply that Republicans are racists, cowards, traitors, stupid, corrupt, terrorist bombers, etc. They endorsed none of smears commonly made against Republicans.

    BTW I tend to agree with Mann and Ornstein that gridlock comes more from the conservative side. However, I think the majority of what comes out of Washington these days is harmful, so I view gridlock as pretty much a positive.

    1. @ David in Cal:

      You make the lame argument that Democrats and "liberals" have not been demonized. I'd say there's a rather long record of such demonization coming consistently and continuously from Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and a host of other conservative ranters. Obama has been called a ton of nasty names by right-wingers. And don't forget people like Michele Bachmann, who called for an "investigation" into the "anti_American" activities and views of "liberal" members of Congress.

      Here's more of what Mann and Ornstein wrote:

      "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

      They trace the " extreme, scornful" evolvement of the Republican party to Newt Gingrich, noting that " the forces Gingrich unleashed destroyed whatever comity existed across party lines."

      And they say that "Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate."

      They add this:

      "Republicans have been the force behind the widening ideological gaps and the strategic use of partisanship. In the presidential campaign and in Congress, GOP leaders have embraced fanciful policies on taxes and spending, kowtowing to their party’s most strident voices."

      That's why former Republican senator (and now defense secretary) Chuck Hagel called his party "ideological" and "intolerant." He was only telling the truth.

      And it's why a long-time Republican Congressional staffer said that Republicans are more like an "apocalyptic cult" than a real, representative political party. Yep. Exactly.

      As to this silly notion that both sides are responsible (see CeceliaMc, above), that simply not true. Mann and Ornstein point out that Republicans are just "so far out of reach," and so absolutely intolerant and repugnant that "a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality."

      Translated, they are saying the Republicans ARE the problem, and the press (and ordinary citizens) "should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public."

      And if you agree that Republican gridlock of Congress "is a positive," then you, sir, are very much a part of the problem.

    2. Nothing like basing a refutation of hyperbolic rhetoric on the Left with quotes that would make a supermarket tabloid writer blush.

  7. Nice back pedal there, D in C. Your diagnosis was that tribal split can be attributed to the fact that "the liberals from Mr. Obama on down have increasingly demonized conservatives." Really? Really? That's it? That's your analysis?

    Oh, by the way, can you direct me to the conservative version of the Daily Howler? When you're not trolling around here D in C, where do you go to get the conservative critique of Fox, Rush, Coulter, et al.? I'm genuinely curious.

    1. You got me there, cacambo. some of my favorite blogs, such as Instpundit and Power Line, will sometimes criticize conservatives or conservative arguments, but they don't do it routinely the way Bob criticizes liberals. I don't know a conservative version of TDH. That's why I donate here.


  8. DinC,
    You nailed it. Not spending a second listening to Republicans who aren't President is a winning idea. Keeps the chasm between the two "tribes" from spreading, dontchaknow. I'll stop listening to anything Republicans say if you will. Deal? (Say "yes, and we can take the idea/ campaign national.)


  9. As for the cowardice in failing to place some limits on the ready access to weapons whose primary purpose is to kill and maim crowds of people...

    Several mistakes in these few words:

    1. The bill that failed was about background checks, not type of weapon.

    2. So-called "assault weapons" kill no more people than ordinary rifles. A rifle is called an "assault weapon" if it has certain cosmetic features.

    3. The quoted comment implies that limits don't already exist on guns. In fact there are innumerable laws, regulations, and restrictions already on the books. When a dramatic event occurs, it's all too common to ignore laws that already exist. That practice results in too many laws. In the case of guns, better enforcement of existing laws might be more valuable than additional laws.

    4. As already pointed out by Bob Somerby, there's no evidence that any particular Senator on either side was motivated by cowardice.

  10. 1. The bill dealt with access.
    2. No mention of "assault rifles."
    3. The current limits are not enough to prevent the carnage we've endured.
    4.No mention of "motivation by cowardice", whatever that is.
    5. Can you be any more obtuse?

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