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American Political Polarization:Are the 1960s the cause?

Updated on March 3, 2016

Two opposing sides!

American Political Polarization: Are the 1960’s the cause?

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about America and its vast political division. We see how liberal Democrats have gotten so liberal while Republicans keep getting more and more conservative.

We see this played in our current primary season: John Kasic who is one of the more liberal Republicans running in this primary season was considered a solid member of the right wing back in the mid-1990s. An avowed Socialist such as Bernie Sanders would have had no chance running in a Democratic primary in 1992 is now in second place to Hillary Clinton.

Why is this happening within the American political system? Why

are the politicians in both parties clinging to the hardline strict

position of their party,liberal and conservative? And why are

fewer and fewer politicians in each party of the moderate stance?

Many different reasons are trotted out for the explanation.

Some would say that the widening income disparity between

rich and poor, some would say it is caused by our increasing

racial diversity which started back in the 1960s and others might

say that the media has caused this vast chasm in our political life.

I do not discount any of these assertions. But I wish to focus on

one of my own. In my own opinion I feel that we should look to the American history and specifically the 1960s and its cultural change

to understand our current political situation.

We should first go back to the election of year of 1968

to begin this examination. In doing this we find surprisingly

that both political parties contained striking diversity. The

Democratic candidate for President that year was Hubert

Humphrey. This was a candidate who not only strongly

supported gun rights,tax cuts,and welfare reform but publicly

criticized welfare as encouraging the tendency of out of wedlock

births among poor women. This criticism was shockingly similar

to the Republican Vice President Dan Quayle’s critique

in the late 1980s.

How could the Democrats a party that strongly supported liberal

causes as the Great Society,ending the Vietnam War, and women’s

rights nominate such a conservative as Humphrey? This happened

because the Democratic party was more ideologically diverse

at this time in history, it had a conservative wing that gave

Humphrey his legitimacy. The party they ran against in 1968 was

no less diverse. The Republican party boasted three major

candidates at its 1968 convention. They were: Conservative

icons Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and also the Liberal

icon, Nelson Rockefeller. The winner of the GOP nomination,

Nixon campaigned as a conservative but once he took office

In 1969 he put through liberal policies such as wage and price

controls and environmental legislation. So we see how diverse

each of the political parties were back in 1968. This diversity

within party ranks causes each party to put forth a less extreme

candidate for the presidency since each party had to work out

its differences and come to a compromise before the general

election. Hubert Humphrey was for tax cuts and gun rights,

but also supported the entire union agenda. Nixon stood

strongly for fighting the Vietnam War but desegregated

several southern schools. When each party if of one

single ideological bent it just reinforces that one ideology

and gives no reason for compromise. This compromise

usually leads to a more moderate candidate.

So the next question is how did this happen? How did

each party lose its ideological diversity and become so

monolithic in its viewpoint. In order to answer this

question we must look to the 1960s and the corresponding

cultural upheaval. One of the bi-products of the 1960s

was the creation of the New Left which not only believed

in redistributing wealth from rich to poor but also strongly

desired the elimination of traditional rules of our culture

such as the women’s role,sexuality and the influence of


This had a lot in common with the Rockefeller liberal wing

of the Republican party who had similar ideas in both

the economic and social spheres. The more conservative wing

of the Democratic party which had a lot of southern members

was horrified by the sixties and the New Left that came out

of it. They left the Democratic party and fell into the arms of

the Goldwater/Reagan wing of the GOP.

So now in 2016 have two major political parties both

overwhelmingly loyal to one ideology be it liberal or

conservative with very few moderates in either camp.

What does this bode for the future? That is a big

question. If the American public continues to be

unsatisfied with the results that our political leaders

produce then we may see a new centrist party come

forth to change the political landscape.


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    • lovemychris profile image

      Leslie McCowen 

      2 years ago from Cape Cod, USA

      Pretty good analysis. Personally, I just believe in live and let live, and increasingly see that we are being told what we can and cannot do.

      Rebelling against authority produces a backlash by authority, and an even stronger grip around the neck.

      Police state has grown in direct correlation that we want our freedom.


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