Ronald Brownstein Addresses the Partisan Divide in the Presidential Race at Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Lecture

Columnist Ronald Brownstein, author of "The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America"

Feb 26, 2008 — “This presidential race has been supersized thus far, with incredible levels of participation,” said Ronald Brownstein, author and prominent political analyst, in his opening remarks at a lecture sponsored by the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program at Stern College for Women. The auditorium at the Geraldine S. Schottenstein Cultural Center on the Beren Campus was filled to near capacity with students, faculty, staff, and New Yorkers interested in this year’s heated presidential contest.

The primaries have yielded record turnouts in almost every state and have been defined by “hyperpartisanship,” the theme of Mr. Brownstein’s talk, “The Second Civil War: The Partisan Divide, the Public Good and the 2008 Election,” based on his recent book, The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America.

“We are seeing an evolution of the Democratic coalition,” observed Brownstein, political director of the Atlantic Media Company and a frequent political commentator on NBC’s Meet The Press, CNN, and ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He went on to analyze the changing demographics of the Democratic Party’s following as Barack Obama draws upscale and better educated voters in contrast with the traditional Democratic following of seniors, Latinos, and blue-collar voters without a college education who comprise Hillary Clinton’s voter base.

“Barack Obama appeals to African-Americans, which represents a huge change in the balance of power–the largest shift of African-American voters” to a Democratic candidate, he said. “Obama is enticing independents, as is Sen. John McCain, with the promise of change in the US and abroad after the strident partisanship of the last eight years.”

Brownstein’s book examines the cycles of cooperation and conflict of the parties over the past 50 years. “In the 1960s we had ideological migration on both sides,” he said. “In the 1990s we moved away from the age of bargaining and negotiating to a point where each party stands with its own side unwilling to reach out to the middle. Moreover, special interest groups have led to greater rigidity and there are fewer bridge-builders in Washington. There has been a steady increase in party-line voting and the gap is the widest ever in modern polling.”

The main obstacle to more effective action against our most pressing problems is an unrelenting polarization of American politics that has divided Washington and the country into hostile, even irreconcilable camps, Brownstein asserts in The Second Civil War.

“The political system is more divided than the country,” Brownstein concluded. “It is hard to find reasonable and inclusive solutions to the major problems we face. It will do the most good for our country, and the world, if the next president can strive for the broadest good.”

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