I’ve been dreading November 6 for a long time, so I’m terribly glad it’s past now! But the sharp division in our country is not over. Approximately half of the electorate is unhappy with the way the election turned out. Many races were very close, and when I went to bed at 3:00 this morning, states like Florida were still in contention.
One reason I dreaded election day was partly because I didn’t know whether my candidates and party would win. I haven’t made any secret about the fact that I am a Democrat. As such, I’m pleased that President Obama has won a second term, that Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Claire McCaskill, and Tammy Duckworth won their Senate seats, and that we have retained the majority in the Senate, even though the House is still Republican.
However, even though many of my candidates won, the government is more divided than ever. According to Yahoo! News, moderates were defeated in favor of more extreme viewpoints. In several cases, moderate Republicans lost in the primaries to extremist Republicans, and this helped their Democratic challengers to win.
Why is our country so divided? The outline of red and blue states was similar to recent elections: blue in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West Coast, with red in the Plains states and the South. Urban areas were more likely to go Democratic, which is also usual. And anyone who thinks race and cultural background played no part must not have seen the crowds I saw at Romney & Obama headquarters. The Romney supporters were predominately white, and Obama supporters included many more non-whites (African-American, Hispanic, and others).
Please note — I am not trying to imply bigotry on the part of the candidates or their supporters; I am merely stating an observation which, I believe, reflects the fact that the two candidates appealed to different groups.
Obama had a 12% advantage with women, especially single women. This does not surprise me considering the anti-woman bias of some of the Republican candidates. His supporters also tended to be LGBT, youth, and first-time voters, (according to exit polls).
Why so many extreme candidates on both sides? I recently read and reported on the book One Way Forward by Lawrence Lessig on the political blog Citizens for Truth, which I administrate. Lessig discusses the polarization of the country in recent years, and points out that extreme candidates have an easier time raising money because their positions are clearer than moderates, who may seem wishy-washy.
Lessig calls this polarization the “business model of hate.” Today’s media outlets, including television, radio, and Internet, focus on “niche marketing.”
“We watch what we agree with. We surf to sites we agree with. And while opposing ideas are just a click away, most of us never click.”
This is why media is generally biased in one way or another. Its goal is to make a profit, and partisanship increases profits. The “business model of hate” is good for business.
In my experience, hatred is often related to fear. What are we so afraid of? Women who voted for Obama may have been afraid of losing control over their own bodies. Whites who voted for Romney may fear the increasing population of non-whites which is changing the face of American culture. Similarly, religion can be the basis of fear — I have seen “scare” emails claiming Obama is a Muslim, and I’ve read similar ones about Romney’s Mormonism.
It seems likely that the gridlock in Congress will continue due to the extreme positions and stubbornness on both sides. Some might say this is good, because the less the federal government does, the better. I don’t agree with that (which is one reason I’m a Democrat!). I wish that we could focus on doing what is best for the people of the country instead of ideology. I was impressed to see the cooperation between Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and President Obama, but saddened when Christie was pounded by criticisms from the Right. What did they expect him to do — refuse federal help, tell Obama to buzz off, let the people suffer? I don’t get this at all.
If you can illuminate me about this mystery, please leave a comment. I would like to understand.