E. J. Dionne on Our Divided Political Heart

Monday, February 04, 2013

Political commentator E. J. Dionne argues that Americans can't agree on who we are because we can't agree on who we've been. In Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent, he offers both a tour of American history—from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln, on to Populism, the Progressives, and the New Dealers—and an interpretation of our moment's politics. He reclaims the American idea of the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness.



E.J. Dionne

Comments [28]


Uh, Amy from Manhattan, if you haven't figured it out yet, big business runs the big government.

Feb. 05 2013 01:49 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Reagan was the 1st prominent politician to say gov't. was the problem, & that seemed to expand into the idea that gov't. couldn't be anything *but* the problem & couldn't do anything right.

He also said he wanted to get big gov't. off the backs of the people. When I heard that, my reaction was that I wanted gov't. to get big business off the backs of the people...but that he seemed to think big business *was* the people. Now we actually hear right-wing politicians saying corporations are people.

Feb. 05 2013 12:36 AM

RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey: Two other things to keep in mind:

1) In one of those amazing "coincidences," notice how the debt has really skyrocketed since 1970 when Nixon closed the foreign gold window, i.e., the U.S. dollar was basically backed by nothing, allowing it to be printed up exponentially more than any time in history.

2) Though ALL U.S. presidents are spenders, it is also the Congress that approves the spending. Much of the past 40 years the Democrats were in control of the Congress. This is not to say that all of the blame lies with them either. Both parties believes in the Warfare/Welfare state—whether that welfare is corporate or social in nature.

Feb. 04 2013 06:24 PM

@RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey: As far as reducing the debt, let's start by ending ALL foreign military actions and presences (i.e., U.S. military bases) abroad IMMEDIATELY. Cut the Dept. of Defense spending by 75%. The Dept of Defense used to be called the Dept. of War.

That's what it has reverted to in the last 12 years. It needs to go back to being a Dept. of Defense.

What do you want to reduce first?

Feb. 04 2013 05:47 PM

@RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey: Perhaps you are talking apples and I am talking oranges. You can read the entire article and see how much of what debt there is now and what is projected can still be blamed just on the Republicans (who certainly do deserve a lot of the blame, BTW).

"The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office.

The latest posting from the Bureau of Public Debt at the Treasury Department shows the National Debt now stands at $15.566 trillion. It was $10.626 trillion on President Bush's last day in office, which coincided with President Obama's first day."

Feb. 04 2013 05:40 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

@David -

Bush's total swing - from projected zero to $9.5T actual equals the entire debt the GOP added. That's $14.5T. Bush added more than $4T nominal to the debt. Anyway, the the GOP increase in the debt (100%) dwarfs Obama's add - 50%.
We don't disagree that the deficit is too high but I bet we disagree on what should be done FIRST to reduce it.

Feb. 04 2013 01:33 PM
Noach from Bklyn

CK from Yorktown wrote,
"[...]but when we see generations of families still on the government dime[...]"

What about the generations of CORPORATIONS and BANKS "still on the government dime"?

Subsidies, tax loopholes, effective immunity from prosecution for the most part, bailouts, etc.

Google "Gingrich Lockheed Martin" for a quick example of GOP hypocrisy on "the cycle of welfare dependency".

John A wrote,
"Note that there is an organization called "BirthRight" which provides support to poor mothers electing to have their children."

I believe that abortion opponents can boast many such efforts and organizations.

But E.J. Dionne was referring to _government_ policies.

Private philanthropy does a great deal of good but can't make-up for lack of adequate government policy and programs.

As someone who is fundamentally opposed to abortion, I have long considered the argument that was articulated by Mr. Dionne regarding an inconsistency and even hypocrisy on the part of many abortion opponents, to have merit.

Finally, I would like to point-out that contrary to popular perception, stereotypes and the way our political system is aligned, opposition to abortion is by no means limited to the right or the religious.

A site I recommend is
(Unfortunately, the site does not appear to be updated.)

From the homepage:

_________Begin Quoted Text________

The idea behind this compilation is simple: violence is not a solution. Abortion is a form of violence against children and against women who are often offered few alternatives. Unintended pregnancy requires a far more compassionate response than the offer of a trip to the abortion clinic.

This concept is lived out daily by many civil rights workers, crisis pregnancy volunteers, and some political leaders, but it is invisible in the media, which portray everything in light of a rigid, conventional division between liberal and conservative. It is this invisibility to which this collection is a response. Over 100 articles, totalling over 100,000 words, are featured.
________________End Quoted Text_________

Feb. 04 2013 01:08 PM

RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey: You are 100% correct that Dumb-ya increased the debt by $4 trillion in eight years. But Obama added another $4 trillion to the debt in just four years. I can assure you that he and the Congress (yes, that includes the Republicans) will add even more.

Also, contrary to what we've been told, the debt even increased under Clinton's eight years, but not nearly as much as during Dumb-ya's and Obama's years in office.

Feb. 04 2013 12:48 PM

JMD from Manhattan, Reagan was anything but a smaller government President. One of the lies we are told.

The Reagan Fraud — and After

Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy

Feb. 04 2013 12:43 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

@John- Dole was one of the last rational republicans - before the fanaticism, Gingrich codified in the GOP.

So it is with irony the during the primary, Gingrich's immigration policy was "too liberal" for Romney. Like bolshevism or the Jacobins, the GOP are eating both their young and old.

Feb. 04 2013 12:39 PM
Henry from Manhattan

Leonard, Romney backtracked on the 47% during the campaing and right after he lost went right back to his 47% rhetoric, blaming this group for why he lost.

Feb. 04 2013 12:36 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

The big problem is that we are divided based on ideology. Everyone seems to forget about common sense (a term I use sparingly as sense doesn't seem to be so common these days).

Feb. 04 2013 12:36 PM
Michael D. D. White from Brooklyn Heights

Does the state’s rights philosophy prevalent in the southern states flow up from the bottom or down from a wealthy elite?

Also, isn’t it oddly anomalous that the southern, opposed to the size of the federal government and wanting to minimize its interventions and spending, are the states to whom the most federal funds flow- a form of welfare flowing out to them?

Feb. 04 2013 12:35 PM
Anti-Bankster/Corporate Traditionalist (Noach) from Bklyn

Nixon was to the left of Obama on economic issues.

Today's GOP makes Reagan look moderate by comparison.

The country has moved solidly to the right on economic issues, while at the same time solidly to the left on cultural issues ("GLBT" agenda, abortion, etc.).

_Both_ to my great dismay.

Also note how off the spectrum the U.S. is economic/labor issues: Our mainstream Democrats are to the _right_ of mainstream _right_ of center parties in Europe.

Just look at Hollande in France: Whether or not he is worthy of the "socialism" label, just the fact that someone who calls himself such can be elected...when here in the U.S. "socialist" is used as a _smear_ (absurdly in many, if not most cases, as with Obama).

Feb. 04 2013 12:35 PM
John A

Note that there is an organization called "BirthRight" which provides support to poor mothers electing to have their children. It is a smallish organization, but may get whatever inheritance I have when I die.

Feb. 04 2013 12:33 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

As long as females are the only people capable of getting pregnant and rearing the next generation of workers, consumers, citizens, and soldiers, the abortion issue will never remain a purely individual rights issue. It hasn't been since ritual infanticide became taboo in most societies over time.

Feb. 04 2013 12:33 PM
jf from ny

Please stop perpetuating the fslse choice that liberalism is contrary yo liberty.corporations abnd people who hurt and kill others phisically can live under a dictatorship while the general population should live under anarchy. Or socialism for poor and no corporate welfare. Fslse choice between liberty and security. This is ridiculous i can think of thoussnds of ways this is wrong.

Feb. 04 2013 12:30 PM
CK from Yorktown

So is he suggesting there is no end to what the government needs to do? I think even conservatives agree to community needs but when we see generations of families still on the government dime is there not a need to do something other than continuing to raise taxes?

Feb. 04 2013 12:28 PM
Henry from Manhattan

“Reality has a well-known liberal bias
-- Stephen Colbert

Yeah, there’s two versions of history dividing politics, the real version and the religious fan-fiction written by conservative “historians” like David Barton and parroted ad nauseam by conservative talking heads hoping that the more it’s repeated, the more people will believe it.

Feb. 04 2013 12:25 PM
Henry from Katonah

I think Mr Dionne is giving way too much credit to the current tea party for being part of the historical mainstream - - you mentioned the antebellum period - - I would say the Tea Party is the present day version of the Know Nothings.

Feb. 04 2013 12:19 PM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

The Bush II administration represents nothing less than a raid on the treasury! The national debt was declining and projected to be PAID OFF within a decade if we had kept the tax rates and polices of the Clinton administration. Instead, the debt had DOUBLED by the time Bush's last fiscal year (3Q2009) had ended. That is a fact that the conservative side will ALWAYS deny. The bubbles caused by eight years of 'loose money' from Washington caused the economy to implode. Recent headlines have indicated that the stock averages have recovered, however the hit to the wealth of the nation and the working lives of baby boomers, is far from recovered.

Feb. 04 2013 12:17 PM
Anti-Bankster/Corporate Traditionalist (Noach) from Brooklyn

Must-reading on Reagan:

"How Right Was Regan?"

"Doubting the depths of Reagan’s conservatism sounds akin to doubting FDR’s liberalism. We are so accustomed to thinking of Reagan as the pre-eminent conservative statesman of our time that any shadow on that reputation seems nonsensical. But some conservative dissidents have recently blamed Reagan for giving his benediction to the most culturally corrosive tendencies in the American character."

Feb. 04 2013 12:14 PM
John A.

Death of the Republican party for me was when Bob Dole told off Newt Gingrich (his work) as a 'piece of garbage'. Yet Newt only grew in popularity while Dole shrank. A passing of the torch of the worst kind.

Feb. 04 2013 12:14 PM
RJ from prospect hts

I would rather look at the divide between people who vote and those who don't, which seems more of an "equally divided" number. Also, where do the millions who *can't* vote because of current or past incarceration fit into these numbers?

Feb. 04 2013 12:13 PM
fuva from harlemworld

Well, it's not just history. We're working with different "facts" on just about every pertinent issue of the day.
We require a revolution in information dissemination.

Feb. 04 2013 12:11 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

" DeTocqueville prescient in warning that American democracy would not survive once its government had learned to bribe its citizens."

Yup, American politicians have been bribing their constituents for a long time, and business interests have been bribing politicians for a long time. Both are very true. But you can only bribe the public so long until the treasury goes broke, and then they come after the rich for more taxes.

The rich bribe the politicians to keep their taxes down and subsidies up.

That's how the system works.

Feb. 04 2013 12:07 PM
Peter Talbot from Harrison, NJ

Interested to know how E. J. Dionne thinks we can have a constructive debate about the role of government now that enormous multi-national companies have been granted the Supreme Court's typical position that Corporations should be able to buy and sell the American public's rights and opinions anonymously and with perfect impunity: proving Adams right in warning against the baleful influence of massive accumulations of wealth and DeTocqueville prescient in warning that American democracy would not survive once its government had learned to bribe its citizens. Most American laws creating, enlarging the "civil rights" of, and emboldening corporations to act outside the law were created after the Civil War in no small way to enable the failure of reconstruction and to reward railroad investors for perfecting Congress' role as a den of thieves. The idea that government (federal or otherwise) has any real authority to change this trajectory seems farcical since Teddy Roosevelt's total failure to curb or even understand the methods of JP Morgan in 1907. I for one think that the US "ship of state" has already become essentially undemocratic, and not even republican due to our collective blindness as to the real power of unfettered capital in the gilded age. Thems that got shall get, etc.

Feb. 04 2013 11:10 AM
JMD from Manhattan

Please comment on the damage done to the nation's psyche when RR cynically sought the Presidency while campaigning on the premiss that the Government he sought to lead WAS THE PROBLEM. That's is the legacy of the Reagan years which has, as I would submit, left us with the true "entitlement" mindset: that we need not pay any taxes while still somehow demanding services or maitaining infrastructure.

Feb. 04 2013 08:18 AM

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