Convention realities: an America divided


Over the weekend, I reread Ryan Lizza’s terrific New Yorker piece, “The Obama Memos: The Making of a Post-Post-Partisan Presidency.” It’s an insightful look at President Obama’s struggles during his first term — his mistakes, his compromises, his actions that made Republicans feel betrayed, the obstruction by Republicans….

And one of the most fascinating sections is Lizza’s discussion of the changes in the political parties — and in the American public.

“Congress is polarized,” Lizza writes, “largely because Americans live in communities of like-minded people who elect more ideological representatives. Obama’s rhetoric about a nation of common purpose and values no longer fits this country: there really is a red America and a blue America.”

And: “Polarization also has affected the two parties differently. The Republican Party has drifted much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has drifted to the left.”

Lizza cites research by Yale professor Jacob Hacker, who told Lizza that since 1975, “Senate Republicans moved roughly twice as far to the right as Senate Democrats moved to the left.” And, Lizza says Hacker told him, “House Republicans moved roughly six times as far to the right as House Democrats moved to the left.”

So what we are seeing in Congress, and what we’ve been seeing at the two national conventions, is a deeply divided nation. The bitterness expressed by the speakers and exhibited among the delegates, is real, not concocted. It’s very hard for a president to overcome that.

We are different people in other ways, too, and that is reflected in the convention delegates, older and almost exclusively white in Tampa, younger and astonishingly integrated in Charlotte.

About last night:

1) As I figured, there was way too much negativity by many of the speakers. Snarling “Women can’t trust Mitt Romney” will turn off moderates and independents and won’t fire up the Democratic troops any more than simply repeating, proudly, what Barack Obama has done for women. The speeches that focused on Obama’s accomplishments and on the Democratic Party’s belief in the importance of equal opportunity, equal rights, accessible health care, abortion rights, and education were by far the best — well written, appropriate, and effective.

2) As plenty of people noted, many of the speeches at the Republican convention were full of inaccuracies. The Dems aren’t rising above them, though. This morning’s Washington Post has a guide to last night’s falsies.

3) I like New York Times columnist David Brooks, who is a staple on the PBS election coverage, but sometimes his strong Republican streak overwhelms his intellect. Last night he was criticizing the Democrats for not having any speakers who had ever run a business. I’d bet that the Dems will get around to that, but last night was a time for laying down the gauntlet on an important issue: the crucial role of government in protecting the rights of Americans and in helping ensure the opportunities that will enable people to a own business.

4) Michelle Obama’s a star.