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 chasmBack 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.
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.
“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.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.
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.
“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