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July 14, 2008

Richard Florida

Bubba on Bishop

« The Russians are Coming | Main | MPI Live »

Former President Bill Clinton warned Saturday that the country is becoming increasingly polarized despite the historic nature of the Democratic primary. Speaking at the National Governors Association's semiannual meeting, Clinton noted that on the one hand, following the early stages of the Democratic primary, "the surviving candidates were an African-American man and a woman." ...  But this achievement was overshadowed by a growing distance between Americans, said Clinton.  "Underneath this apparent accommodation to our diversity, we are in fact hunkering down in communities of like-mindedness, and it affects our ability to manage difference," Clinton said.

Clinton developed his 44-minute speech from themes he said he drew from a new book, "The Big Sort," by Bill Bishop. He cited statistics compiled by Bishop that found that in the 1976 presidential election, only 20 percent of the nation's counties voted for Jimmy Carter or President Ford by more than a 20 percent margin. By contrast, 48 percent of the nation's counties in 2004 voted for John Kerry or President Bush by more than 20 points, Clinton said.
"We were sorting ourselves out by choosing to live with people that we agree with," Clinton said.

The rest is here (h/t: Patrick Adler). Way to go Bill  - Bishop that is.


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Whitney Gunderson

Bill Clinton just gave a good speech on The Big Sort and how it is affecting the United States, and somehow he deserves a poke, or doesn't get an modicum of thanks for doing so? That's not the way to go, Richard Florida.

Jonathan Reimer

The clustering of like-minded people can be seen as one strand of the theme of the growing irrelevance and non-interest amongst citizens for politics at the national and sub-national level. Whether right or left, people increasingly feel a diconnect between policies, leaders and actions. The return to community level engagement seems a counter to this, creating structures, actions, committees and relationships that move community wants forward in a way organized (big P) politics cannot.
This idea aligns nicely with the notion of city states, a spiky world of creative hubs. It also jives with the notion that a resident of downtown Toronto may find greater like-mindedness amongst residents of Chicago than they would of fellow Ontarians in Thunder Bay.


Maybe the combination fuel price crunch and desire to spend less time commuting will force more people to live beside neighbors with different political views -- and this could be a great thing, maybe.

Or the tension between views could make some cities and neighborhoods less pleasant to live in. Somewhat like the process of gentrification, we'd have the process of political pluralization -- a change that some residents can embrace and others cannot.

"May you live in interesting times" - the Chinese proverb and curse


Whitney - I didn't think or - or consider it - a poke. I thought the speech was fine and was more interested in giving kudos to Bill Bishop because Clinton referenced his book. RF

the greatest

It is actually refreshing to here an established world leader touch on this issure. What's even more refreshing is that is seems to mark return of the empathetic, socially-concentious, and intelligent Bill Clinton who seemed to momentarily go awol during the primaries. I have read the book which is astute, thoughful and timely. Being from the Midwest and havign lived on the West Coast for the second half of my life I am oftened astounded at the mutal ignorance and arrogance that exist between regions. I believe I have found it even more surprising how many people living in the more formally-educated, well-travelled, affluent and ostensibly liberal west coast will hold blanket prejudices against their compatriots of other regions. Let's just say that if one listens carefully one may detect a whiff or more of superiority. (See senator Obama's San Fran speech. Talk about Oops!)This is not letting the South and Midwest off the hook as their reactionary and close-minded ways are quite well documented. Overall most people's values are primarily forged by what might be called geographical history. I am a city guy, born and raised, but I have to shake my head at people in Portland, where I live now, who a few years ago got all up in arms about a some rural folk who hold a tradition rabbit hunt-- rabbits they eat! We city people don't like to see our grass-fed steaks actually killed let alone kill them ourselves-- oh but we like to eat the steaks if they at an overpriced trendy restaurant or on the shelf at Wholefoods. I would like to think that I have a fairly healthy perspective on this stuff because, although I live in a homogeneous city on the coast I have spent time in the country, down south and around people who watch Nascar. I also now how frustrating and challenging it can be trying to find a common ground. I understand that generalities are usually rooted, if only loosely, in some reality but moreover I understand that actually dealing with people who hold differerent views is far more important, interesting and fruitful that pontificating about each other from a safe distant. Put simply, I too share this concern of self (-rightous) segregation from both the left and the right. Diverse ideas make us stronger, cooler, more truly cosmopolitan and more resilient as a nation. Like any healthy eco-system a nation is also living body of interdependent lives, ideas, systems and perspectives. I am afraid that in our quest to have our beliefs and views constantly affirmed (while avoiding counter-views at all cost)we are missing the mark again. If we don't try something truly different and fresh, instead of merely repositioning the parts we will remain in the same zero-sum game for the forseeable future.

hayden fisher

hey, the greatest, great post!! I've lived in and been a part of a number of environments as well and have also been amazed at how judgmental different groups can be of others, myself included sometimes! On the one hand, progress should be recognized and cultivated; on the other, traditions and beliefs should be respected. The classic example is marriage. Neither the gay rights folks nor the traditional-marriage camps seem to have any appreciation for the wants and needs of the other. That's just one example of a place where compromise should be reached and respect afforded instead of practicing what I would call snapping-judgmentalism

the greatest

Thanks Hayden. I also agree with you that marriage (abortion too!) is a keystone issue where we could make substantial progress if either side was willing to give a bit and get beyond seeing it as simply black or white. Note: Forgive my spelling the in previous post: it seems that I think faster than I can type, thus the typos!

Whitney Gunderson

Thanks for clarifying RF. This looks like a good discussion, but I still don't think proper credit was given to Clinton for featuring Bishop's book. And here's why....

Bishop's motivation for writing the book is eventually trying to reduce polarization. Some of the most detailed research to date was used in Bishop's book on how we "sort." But the ideas to reduce the "sort effect" and polarization were few and far between in the book. I got the sense that Bishop has raised awareness of polarization, and that polarization has actually increased because of it. I don't think that's the way Bishop intended it, but that's what happened.

That's where this gets complicated. Our leaders have to pick-up on this and do something about it in a non-exploitive way. Clinton was talking about polarization without exploiting it, and got called a "Bubba" for doing so.

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