By Stanley Kurtz, August 11, 2012
Remember just after the 2000 election when the famous red-and-blue map first appeared? It shocked us at the time, and for more reasons than one. Geographically, red counties overwhelmed the blue. Although they amounted to half the country’s population, Democrats were clearly concentrated in just a few populous urban centers and university towns, especially on the coasts. It wasn’t just the geographic predominance of red that surprised, though. It was the contrast between the map and the election that preceded it. The Bush/Gore contest hadn’t been filled with passionate arguments or open ideological divisions. The map emerged as a kind of revelation, a glimpse into the rough, polarizing currents silently flowing beneath a more placid electoral landscape.
The 2012 election reverses all that. The combination of a slashing, class-warfare-based campaign by President Obama and now Mitt Romney’s selection of the boldly conservative Paul Ryan means that we face an epic presidential contest that will openly turn on fundamental philosophical differences between red and blue America. How did we get here, and what does it mean for our future? Above all, now that our internal battle is well-and-truly out in the electoral open, will 2012 decide whether red America or blue America wins for good?
First we need to understand that our political divisions are real and growing. They are rooted not in top-down political rhetoric but in profound and lasting social and cultural differences. For a while, analysts tended to make light of our polarization, fruitlessly predicting year after year that our culture war (still raging) was just about to end. If anything, the culture wars have expanded now to include the whole of politics. It used to be that only arguments over gay marriage or abortion were stigmatized as moral abominations. Now even differences over health care reform and the deficit are super-charged with moral accusation.