Bishop’s thesis is that over the last thirty years, because we’ve been more mobile as a nation and with the shift from an industrial to service economy, we’ve had the opportunity to reorganize our lives to surround ourselves with people who share similar values and political priorities—that we have self-segregated. And that as a result we’re more polarized as a nation and it feeds on itself, since we’re less and less likely to be exposed regularly for people with differing viewpoints and thus less likely to be able to grasp the thought process that leads to different perspectives. Bishop goes on to use statistics from the last 30 years of political election data, interviews with moderate legislators that have been marginalized by their political parties, and discussion with various religious communities to emphasize how difficult we find sensible compromise today.
The current battle over health care has been an interest foil to reading this, we’re going to end up with weaker legislation because any current common ground leans far right of “moderate” political thought, and with polarized and homogenous constituencies there’s little motivation for legislators to compromise.
My own best example of how these communities manifest would be my experience in the 2008 presidential election. I live in a very liberal neighborhood, we’re full of hipsters and a large gay community, we tend to skew “blue” overall with the exception of a large gated community at the very north end of the Hill. That night I went with friends to watch the election results come in at a local coffee shop, and what was horrifying to me was the booing that went on when McCain gave a very thoughtful concession speech. We were so polarized by the election that any respect for the losing candidate was apparently impossible.
As someone who considers themselves fairly moderate, this direction is disheartening.