Republicans and Democrats really don’t have much in common

October 29, 2013

WaPo's Jim Tankersley has written a fascinating and important story detailing the vast differences -- cultural, economic and political -- between areas represented by tea-party aligned Members of Congress and the rest of the country.


WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: A man holds up a sign at a rally centered around reopening national memorials closed by the government shutdown, supported by military veterans, Tea Party activists and Republicans, on October 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Here's Tankersley -- writing from Rome, Georgia:

If you want to understand the congressional Republicans who have forced confrontations with Obama on the “fiscal cliff,” the government shutdown and the debt ceiling — and whether those lawmakers might feel encouraged to force more confrontations in the future — you need to understand the economic struggles of the Republicans’ home districts.

People in those districts are poorer and more likely to be unemployed than in the nation at large. They have focused their anger about their economic circumstances on Obama, and they want someone, anyone, to make him improve things for them. This is why Hackett praises his congressman,Tom Graves, for voting against the plan to end the budget impasse with Obama that produced the shutdown. “I think he’s great,” he said of Graves. “Somebody’s got to stand up to him.”

Tankersley notes that in the 45 districts represented by Members who have routinely opposed Speaker John Boehner on things like the fiscal cliff deal, the farm bill and aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, "the median income....[in 2012] was 7 percent lower than the national median, according to the Census Bureau. The unemployment rate averaged 10 percent. That was almost two percentage points higher than the national rate, and two percentage points higher than the overall rate in the states that contain each district."

Tankersley's story perfectly captures the political reality that the last few months -- hell, the last few years -- in Washington have made plain: There really are two political Americas.  Neither understand each other very well and there's little chance they will get to know one another any better because they don't a) live in the same places b) watch the same TV shows or movies c) buy the same cars or d) read the same newspapers, watch the same news or read the same blogs (or any blogs at all).

The two political Americas explains why many people in Washington during the government shutdown simply couldn't understand how these four dozen or so House Republicans could not be made to understand that what they were doing was doomed to fail.  Here's why: Because for their constituents -- the people they were elected to represent and on whom their future employment depends -- they were fighting the right fight, no matter whether or not they could win it.

Check out this terrific slide from the Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a lobbying shop in D.C., that paints a striking picture of the two political Americas:


Image courtesy of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti

The simple fact is that there is almost no overlap -- culturally, politically, economically, socially and virtually every other word ending in "ly" -- between the districts represented by Republicans in Congress and those held by Democrats. If the two sides often seem like they are talking to two totally different electorates on every issue, it's because they are.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan · October 29, 2013