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July 26, 2013 1:04 PM The Deeper Divide

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lot of polling conducted about the George Zimmerman verdict, and/or the whole Zimmerman-Martin saga. And a lot of it tracks divisions on, well, most other major controversies in American politics, including partisan attachments and competitive national elections.

One way of looking at the congruence of opinion on issues directly relating to race and ethnicity and on all kinds of other issues is that it reflects a partisan and ideological polarization that’s taken on the atmosphere of a culture war. The other way, of course, is to suggest that we’re in a culture war that’s now spread to the full range of public policy issues.

In his latest National Journal column, Ron Brownstein adds the considerable weight of his judgment to the latter proposition:

Although the contrasting attitudes about law enforcement ignite more sparks, that question of Washington’s proper role now represents the most important racial divide in American life. Minorities preponderantly support government investment in education, training, and health care that they consider essential for upward mobility. Most whites, particularly blue-collar and older whites, now resist spending on almost anything except Social Security and Medicare.
This clash rings through the collision between Obama (who won twice behind a coalition of nonwhites and the minority of whites generally open to activist government) and House Republicans (four-fifths of whom represent districts more white than the national average). In their unwavering opposition to Obama on issues from health to immigration, House Republicans are systematically blockading the priorities of the diverse (and growing) majority coalition that reelected him. Without more persuasive alternatives, Republicans risk convincing these emerging communities that their implacable opposition represents a “stand-your-ground” white resistance to minorities’ own rise. In the meantime, a rapidly diversifying America risks a future of hardening disparities and enmities if it cannot forge more transracial consensus in the courts—or in Congress.

If Ron’s analysis is right, of course, there’s another scenario for the future if “hardening disparities and enmities” cannot be overcome: one side or the other might actually win for long enough to set a new course for the future. For a brief moment that seemed to have happened in 2008. I’m sure some conservatives thought they saw it happening in 2010, which is why they quite literally couldn’t believe what was happening just two years later. But whether the current gridlock leads to a currently unimaginable “transracial consensus” or something else, something’s gotta give before long.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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