MINNEAPOLIS - In the aftermath of the contentious election of 2012, the question remains: Can we all get along? America seems as politically polarized as ever.
"My husband is a very strong Republican and we had this conversation in the morning and it did not go well," said Claire Kinuthia of Minneapolis. The disagreements have often penetrated to the nuclear family level.
Retired University of Minnesota History Professor Hy Berman says the political divide is evidence of the nation's loss of the consensus that was born out of the crises of the Great Depression and World War II.
"This consensus lasted from the 1950's to about the 1980's," said Berman. "Eisenhower accepted it as President. Harold Stassen accepted it for the state."
Republicans, who now stand for smaller government and fewer federal programs, once supported efforts that would be "anathema" to Republicans now, according to Berman.
"Remember, Richard Nixon was a consensus president," said Berman. "Despite all the difficulties he had with Watergate and all that, he was a consensus president. Remember, one of Nixon's initiatives, which he failed in accomplishing, was a negative income tax. In other words, to give people who did not pay income tax, credit so they could go out and buy things."
The consensus was a period of time in which both major parties believed that government activism was a good thing. "Now we are at a point where we have no consensus," said Berman. "The New Deal consensus, the concept that government has a role to play, that it should play a role as a kind of safety net or regulatory agency, that is believed by half the people and the other half have come to the belief that, in fact, government is the problem. We don't need government. We should drown government...and it is a view that has come to dominate the Republican Party, essentially."
Berman said the Democrats, as well, have abandoned consensus. "The Democratic Party, during the time of consensus, was a strong believer in economic policy, particularly policy that would benefit labor and farmers."
Berman said the Democrats became a party of "identity"politics, aligning with groups within the population that were perceived as weaker. "Now, Obama attempted to bring back the consensus view, but, in his first term, he failed."
Berman said that the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is an example of the old consensus model. "The question is: Will he (Obama) be able to create this new consensus? Prognosis? Not too good. Expectations? Continued drift."
Berman believes it may take a new "great crisis" to bring Americans together again.
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