Polarizing politics

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(Host) It’s said that in matters of love, opposites sometimes attract – and even merge. Commentator David Moats wishes the same could be said about politics.

(Moats) I was at a gathering of newspaper editors not too long ago, and one of them wondered how to deal with the increasingly polarized political atmosphere of her state. Her state was Florida, and the bitter feelings left over from the 2000 election had not gotten any better. But bitter feelings seem to be commonplace these days, and you can often hear people talking about the red states and the blue states as if they were talking about the Union and the Confederacy.

Is it true that we are becoming two nations? I don’t think so.

It’s true there are wide differences in cultural outlook, economics, and politics that can be analyzed according to all kinds of demographic indicators. You have a vast population of religious people who don’t believe in science and who believe the Bible should be the basis for our laws. You have a vast population of less religious people, or non-religious people, or differently religious people who accept science and who insist on a separation of church and state.

You have NASCAR dads. You have soccer moms. You have coastal-dwelling, latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, Christian, NASCAR-loving, soccer moms. It all becomes a festival of stereotypes. Vermont lately has been accused of an affinity for Volvos. Tell that to the people at Devil’s Bowl or Thunder Road.

I think part of the fury and polarization that exist now has to do with a very specific approach to politics taken by the present administration. I know this interpretation may mark me as a blue state person. Maybe my interpretation only furthers the polarization. But I think the only way to bridge the gap between the two sides is to speak honestly about what we see as the facts.

I think people are yearning for honesty. That’s why Richard Clarke’s straightforward account of events in the White House has caught people’s attention. He’s the anti-terrorism expert who left the White House and wrote a book accusing President Bush of an unhealthy obsession with Iraq.

I think there is a vast middle in the nation of people who might live in red states or blue states but who have a lot in common. They want a clean environment. They want good education. They want better health care. They want to be safe. They want decent jobs. They want equality and justice for everybody.

I don’t think Bush’s policies have sought a middle ground where people could join together to achieve these things. But he wants us to think he is working toward these things, which has created a problem of credibility for him and pulled people apart who might otherwise have found a way of working together.

So what does that make me? For the record, I don’t drink latte. I favor Darjeeling tea. I don’t drive a Volvo, just a boring Toyota. In my time I was a soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, and gymnastics dad.

So on election night we may have red states and blue states, but I think what we really have are a lot of purple states, in which red and blue are mixed together in a variety of interesting shades. If we try, I think we can learn to live with that.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald, and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He spoke from studios at Middlebury College.

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