American politics has --- until recently --- been anomalously non-ideological. One could find free-traders and protectionists, libertarians and authoritarians, segregationists and civil rights activists --- together in the Republican and Democratic parties, both working under the same banner. Although these alliances were strained, fraught, and controversial, American parties muddled through, and somehow represented a similarly all-sides-heard electorate. Was this due to Divine direction? Volunteerism? Structural factors? A commitment to localism? Some deep, "mystic chord of memory" about the American project? Yet, this world is passing away, and the U.S.'s major parties are more divided, and more consistently so, than at any time in U.S. history. What explains this odd history, and how might we account for the new divisions?
In any case, American politics is jarring to many global political observers, where ideological divides at home are deeply relevant and emotionally divisive at each election. In this seminar, we'll look at the largely non-ideological mainsprings of the American Revolution, and trace the development of American parties and political divides through the Civil War, New Deal, Great Society, and the Reagan Revolution. Then, we will consider what changed in the 1990s and 2000s that prompted an end to American party exceptionalism and gave rise to its modern, (almost) ideological parties.
Arnold F. Shober is a Professor of Government at Lawrence University (PhD, University of Wisconsin--Madison). Courses in elections, public opinion, public policy, federalism, mass media, and education policy are among Prof. Shober’s offerings. His research focuses on questions of public policy in the American federal system and covers such subjects as state-level bureaucracy and education governance. His recent work includes “Can Equity Survive Governance? Politics, Accountability, and Local Control in US Education” (2019), In Common No More: The Politics of the Common Core State Standards (2016), and Out of Many, One? The Democratic Dilemma of American Education (2012). Prof. Shober has appeared frequently in the news media, including in such sources as USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, Education Week, Wisconsin Public Radio, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel - and every other week on Appleton's WHBY radio.