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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Midcentury Moment

At The Wall Street Journal, Michael Barone writes of "the Midcentury Moment," the period of the 1950s and 1960s when politics seemed less bitter and hyperpartisan.
This was an America that generally seemed united by common values, shaped by the shared experiences of deprivation in the Depression 1930s, the mass mobilization in the wartime 1940s and the unexpected prosperity in the postwar 1950s.

Politicians in Washington during the Midcentury Moment actually did gather at five o'clock to sip bourbon and branch water in Capitol hideaways and then roll out bipartisan compromises on the floor the next day. Genuine friendships and constant communication were established across party lines, despite great enmities—remember that this was also the era of Joe McCarthy.
Since then, the parties have realigned, the Greatest Generation has marched toward the sunset, the popular culture has fragmented.
America's Midcentury Moment was just that—and American politics has returned to its combative, partisan, divisive default mode. In the 1790s, Americans were divided over a world-wide war between commercial Britain and revolutionary France. Political strife was bitter. In the antebellum years, Americans were deeply split over issues from the Bank of the United States to slavery in the territories. For three generations after the Civil War, Americans North and South lived almost entirely apart from each other.

The Midcentury Moment emerged as the result of three unexpected developments, two of them unwelcome—depression, war, postwar prosperity—and was communicated through the language of an unusually vivid and unusually universal popular culture. Absent these things—and it's hard to see how they could return—our politicians aren't likely to all get along.