Magazine article The New Yorker

Adversaries

Magazine article The New Yorker

Adversaries

Article excerpt

For the past generation or two, Washington has been the not so hallowed ground for a political war. This conflict resembles trench warfare, with fixed positions, hourly exchanges of fire, heavy casualties on both sides, and little territory gained or lost. The combatants wear red or blue, and their struggle is intensely ideological.

Before the nineteen-seventies, most Republicans in official Washington accepted the institutions of the welfare state, and most Democrats agreed with the logic of the Cold War. Despite the passions over various issues, government functioned pretty well. Legislators routinely crossed party lines when they voted, and when they drank; filibusters in the Senate were reserved for the biggest bills; think tanks produced independent research, not partisan talking points. The "D." or "R." after a politician's name did not tell you what he thought about everything, or everything you thought about him.

To Phyllis Schlafly and the New Right, this consensus amounted to liberalism, and in the nineteen-seventies they began to use guerrilla tactics--direct mail, single-issue pressure groups, right-wing think tanks, insurgent campaigns. By the nineties, conservatives had begun to take over the institutions of government. Liberals copied their success: the Heritage Foundation led to the Center for American Progress, the Moral Majority to People for the American Way, Bill O'Reilly to Keith Olbermann. The people Washington attracts now tend to be committed activists, who think of themselves as locked in an existential struggle over the fate of the country, and are unwilling to yield an inch of ground. …

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