Divided we stand

by Ryan Streeter on November 12, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

My Indianapolis Star column today makes the case that during the Obama era, we have grown more divided than ever – and that this division makes deficit reduction more difficult than ever, too:

Within 24 hours of President Obama winning a second term, the conventional wisdom had already taken shape: Republicans are in the midst of an identity crisis. Commentators on the morning shows are earnestly, almost frenetically, analyzing this important new reality.

It’s worth remembering that political parties have identity crises on a regular basis. Remember the Democrats’ so-called identity crisis after their 2010 midterm shellacking?

There is no question that Republicans will fail in the long run if they do not become a party in which more minorities, younger Americans and single women prosper. But the more immediately important lesson about Tuesday is this: America is more divided than it was four years ago, and that matters immensely as we face coming fiscal crises.

Four years after making history as America’s first black president, Barack Obama made history by getting re-elected with a smaller percentage of the vote than in 2008. Presidents who win a second term typically expand their base of support.

President Obama won rather by turning out his core constituencies in big numbers, not by attracting more people who didn’t vote for him in 2008. For instance, he actually lost support among independents, who made up a larger share of the electorate than four years ago. Fifty-two percent of them voted for him in 2008, compared to just 45 percent on Tuesday. Mitt Romney got 49 percent of their vote.

The campaign all came down, then, not to who could win the middle, but who could turn out enough of their core constituents, and the Obama campaign won that fight.

In addition the Blue Dog Coalition, that once-influential band of centrist Democrats, lost more seats on Tuesday. The coalition has been all but gutted in the Obama era, a fact rarely mentioned by liberal media outlets that prefer instead to talk about how the Republican Party has grown more extreme in the wake of the tea party’s influence.

The last four years have made us more divided. While the tea party helped Republicans rediscover their commitment to limited government, the Obama era has made the Democrats more coastal, more elite, more “progressive.” Amidst this division, we stare ahead to the fiscal cliff.

The challenge for us, then, is this: Can we all step back for a minute without our partisan eyeglasses and remember that a plan like Paul Ryan’s to reform entitlements and reduce the deficit once had backers from both sides of the aisle? Can we agree on something similar now that liberals have grown used to calling it an extreme right-wing policy? The question for President Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress now becomes this: What will you propose in place of the Ryan plan, and will it be a solution that doesn’t at the same time put the brakes on economic recovery?