Among Bill Clinton's post-White House ventures, one of the more striking is
his campaign to reverse trends in childhood obesity. It's been remarkable for
its ambition, and for the scope of its potential benefits. But perhaps most of
all, it's been remarkable to see someone of Clinton's typically diet-oblivious
gender speak publicly about laying off the cheeseburgers.
You are either for Bush or you are against him. Same holds true for the war
in Iraq, presidential candidate John Kerry, guns, abortion, and gay
With choices like this, it's no wonder the middle ground has faded into
Why can't we all just get along?
In the 2000 presidential election, the winner in Florida was decided by a
handful of votes no matter how you tally them. Democratic nominee Al Gore only
won New Mexico by 366 votes. And things haven't changed all that much in the
past four years. At no time, perhaps, in our history has the country been so
divided over politics.
People either love Bush or hate him. And the same (to a degree) for Kerry.
Polls consistently split down the middle, and people react to political issues
not with vigorous debate but with anger and venom. Michael Moore's Bush-bashing
film Fahrenheit 911 spawns Swift Boat Veterans eager to cast doubt on
John Kerry's Vietnam valor.
Why are we so partisan all of a sudden? Is it a reaction to the isolationism
brought on by terrorism, or is there something more basic (or more complicated)
at work here?
"The intensely partisan, angry feelings on both sides are a displacement
of fear and helplessness of the current situation in the world," opines
Kerry J. Sulkowicz, MD, a New York-based psychoanalyst.
"Things are as bad as they have been in the last 20 years, and a lot has
to do with 9/11 and global threats of terrorism," says Sulkowicz, also
chairman of the American Psychoanalytic Association's committee on public
When people are angry and scared, Sulkowicz says, they tend to become more
polarized and take hard, angry positions in one camp or another.
"Both sides become increasingly unable to understand the other
side," he says. "As a society, we are much more involved in fighting
our internal enemies as opposed to looking outward to what the real threats
are." But "in some ways it's much easier to fight with Kerry than bin
There may be more at work than fears of terrorism, says presidential
historian Tim Blessing, PhD, chairman of the history department at Alvernia
College in Reading, Pa.
Geography Is a Factor
"It would be strange if this [type of polarization] wasn't
occurring," says Blessing, director of Penn State's Presidential
Each year, Blessing travels across the country through rural, suburban, and
"We really have splintered into three societies - rural, urban,
suburban," he says. These societies tend to differ on guns, abortion,
foreign policy, religion, and families.
"They even disagree in terms of how people should look," he says,
"In North Dakota, I only saw one person with body piercings and tattoos,
but at Alvernia College, a Catholic Institution, hundreds of students have body
piercings and tattoos."