Greenberg Traces Political Deadlock in ‘Two Americas’

Posted February 9, 2004 at 4:20pm

If the 2004 election is the political Super Bowl, then former adviser to President Clinton Stanley Greenberg has already written the playbook for both teams.

In his new book, “The Two Americas: Our Political Deadlock and How to Break It,” Greenberg breaks down what he calls our “49 percent” political culture and explains why the current deadlock is the unavoidable result of the past 50 years of partisan politics.

“This book is not a rant, not to say I don’t like the books that are rants. I read them and they’re important,” said Greenberg. “I meant for it for be serious and helpful to Democrats but also serious enough and helpful enough that Republicans will read it.”

Based on mountainous amounts of survey data, collected primarily by Democracy Corps — which Greenberg co-founded — the book slices up America into groups based on past political leanings and then scales them on their likelihood to vote Democrat, Republican or third party.

“I think the white rural voters are the most important [group], but they are the one group in the Republican coalition that doesn’t really belong there,” said Greenberg. “They are for sure upset over the cultural pollution that comes through TV, but they hate the values that operate in corporate board rooms and I think they will listen to a candidate that makes that critique.”

Greenberg repeatedly points out how neither Democrats nor Republicans have reached the 50 percent popular vote mark in the past three presidential elections, and how this lack of overwhelming public endorsement has forced both parties to retreat toward the safety of their political bases.

In an attempt to blur the line between political fantasy and reality, Greenberg takes the reader into the White House, where a fictitious Karl Rove is giving a political briefing to a fictitious President Bush, who seems more interested in the Texas Rangers-New York Yankees game on television than his re-election bid.

In the briefing, the faux Rove instructs the president to court his conservative base by supporting prayer in schools, late-term abortion bans, faith-based programs, relaxed gun control, and tax cuts piled on top of more tax cuts — all the while waving the American flag.

Besides giving President Bush a history lesson on the last time there was a Republican hegemony, Greenberg’s Rove stresses the importance of touting education and Bush’s own trademark compassionate conservatism to quell any resistance to Bush’s push to the right.

Greenberg says a political PowerPoint presentation leaked from the White House last year is where the scene derives its basis, and having Rove lecture Bush was the best way to fit it into the book’s framework.

Greenberg stresses he did not want the book to read like a Washington elitist guide to the country’s political state, so he traveled to three counties he felt to be key in this year’s election.

“I went to these areas because they were in states that are potential battleground states. They were in areas that had competitive Congressional races over the last decade. They represented different tendencies. I’d go to the libraries, I’d go to the civic centers, I’d go to the playgrounds, I’d go to the churches and the people everywhere were delighted to talk to me,” Greenberg says.

He cites suburban Tampa, Fla., as a prime example of an area that could swing into either party’s corner. According to Greenberg, the “exurbia” around the city has many military families and places a high emphasis on conservative values. However, he explains, the residents also embrace racial diversity, have a strong distrust of corporate governance and spend their Thursday nights watching “Friends” — a fact Greenberg found amusing considering the people and places he was polling had little in common with the sitcom’s characters and setting.

“There is a real cultural war element to the Tampa suburb. The churches had a much more evangelical feel, much more anger toward the cultural Hollywood decline, whereas the rural areas in Iowa, they were much more confident in themselves and their values,” Greenberg said.

After meeting with a focus group, Greenberg would ask each participant to fill out a postcard to President Bush. “They’d write, ‘Thank you for making the country safe, but don’t forget the little people. Make sure we’re treated equally with the big people.’ And there is a worry that we are in a period — and it’s true certainly in Iowa and Florida — where ethos, our irresponsibility with greed is dominant,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg asserts that with the current crop of Democratic nominees for president there is cause for concern in the Bush White House, but laughingly says, “It was unseemly how much and how desperately they wanted to run against Howard Dean, they could not contain how much they wanted to run against Dean.”

While Greenberg suspects Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) scares the Bush administration the most, he believes it has little to do with Edwards’ ability to deliver Southern votes and more to do with the fact that politicians from the South are more likely to have a religious narrative in their speeches and conversations with the public — a trait Greenberg says resonates well with a large portion of voters stuck in our 49 percent nation.