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The Great American Cleaving

by CHARLES M. BLOW

We now stand in the twilight of American moderation.

We have retreated to our respective political corners and armed ourselves in an ideological standoff over the very meaning of America, having diametrically opposed interpretations of its past and visions for its future. Talking across the table has been reduced to yelling across the chasm.

Welcome to the Great American Cleaving.

According to exit polls, Tuesday’s (11/4) vote continued a trend, reaching a record low percentage of self-described liberals who voted for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives, and a record low percentage of conservatives who voted for Democratic candidates. Ideology is slowly becoming rigidly prescriptive and political transcendence is becoming less and less possible or admirable.

Even the moderates, who tend to vote slightly more Democratic, set a record: the lowest percentage of moderates voting in House races. In fact, this is the first time in the history of exit polling that moderates were not the largest ideological voting block. They were trumped by conservatives.

Instead of moving toward the middle, we are drifting toward the extremes.

We need only flip on cable “news” in the evenings to see how this plays out. We are feted to a cacophony of recriminations and a never-ending string of gotcha moments, until the “other side” has been stripped of all nobility. The Anchors of Acrimony have made a fortune salting the middle ground. So now the political pendulum has swung back hard to the right, mostly because of a disproportionately large number of older, wealthier, conservative voters — a quirk of midterms in general but particularly strong this cycle. It was yet another ideological backlash.

At a Wednesday press conference, the president seemed not to want to acknowledge as much, saying, “I suspect that if you talk to any individual voter yesterday, they’d say, there are some things I agree with Democrats on, there are some things I agree with Republicans on. I don’t think people carry around with them a fixed ideology.” Well maybe not in the Obama land of open minds and collegial cooperation, but in the real world that’s exactly what most do.

And the new Republican majority in the House comes to power with a sour sentiment from their electorate: make no deals and take no prisoners. A May poll released by the Pew Research Center found that a plurality of Republican voters said that they were less likely to vote for a candidate who “will compromise with people they disagree with.” They want either steamrollers or roadblocks, not consensus-builders.

On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, delivered the opening salvo, saying “our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Not jobs? Not the deficit? Not the two interminable wars?

That ripping sound you hear is the fabric of a nation.

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.”

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