The History of Political Polarization in America


By Michael Bryan

On the excellent podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, hosted by Mr. Klein, the editor-at-large of Vox Media, former reporter Sam Rosenfield gave some excellent recommendations for further reading for those who want to better understand America’s polarized politics. Sam himself is the author of “The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era”.

The discussion on the podcast is well worth a listen and the books Mr. Rosenfield recommends are an excellent backgrounder for how we got to today’s political moment. To see those recommendations follow the “continue reading” link…

“When asked for his book recommendations, Rosenfeld was clear that his are “books that people could actually go out and buy, and would enjoy reading.” His three choices fit the bill, assuming you’re the type of person who enjoys reading histories of congressional power struggles, shifting political parties, and/or social policy in the United States.”

1) On Capitol Hill: The Struggle to Reform Congress and Its Consequences, 1948-2000 by Julian E. Zelizer

“Historian Julian Zelizer’s book about constitutional reform was a direct influence on Rosenfeld’s The Polarizers. Rosenfeld was assigned to review it when it was published in 2006, and enjoyed that it “has real actors and a kind of narrative.” It’s an interesting contrast to our current political climate because it tells “a story in which liberals who ended up lamenting some of this [polarization] in the Bush and now Trump eras have reasons to want to make politics in the United States more partisan.””

2) Making Minnesota Liberal: Civil Rights and the Transformation of the Democratic Party by Jennifer A. Delton

“Jennifer Delton’s book on Hubert Humphrey’s project of consolidating the Minnesota Democratic Party with the left-wing Farmer-Labor Party is in some ways a very narrowly focused narrative. However, according to Rosenfeld, it’s “also a study of Cold War liberalism and how civil rights for white liberals in the North came to be such a keystone of postwar politics.””

3) Social Policy in the United States by Theda Skocpol

“Theda Skocpol is “a kind of titan of political science and sociology,” according to Rosenfeld. Social Policy in the United States is a collection of her writings from the ’80s and early ’90s that trace how American social policy on health care, Social Security, welfare, etc. came to be. He often assigns Social Policy in the United States to his students, saying that when he read it for the first time in college, he thought “this is how to look at the world and make sense of it — this kind of approach that takes history and institutions and movements seriously as the engine of what makes the world tick.””

Please Note: Purchasing one of these books through the links above provides BlogForArizona with a small portion of the purchase price at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support.

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Michael founded BlogForArizona as the Howard Dean campaign blog for Arizona in 2003, and has been blogging ever since. Michael is an attorney living in Tucson with his wife Lauren Murata. In 2008, following some health issues and new time constraints, Michael stepped back from regular blogging and began remaking BlogForArizona into a collaborative project. Michael now contributes occasionally to the blog and provides editorial and publishing direction. Also if you want to keep up with the latest Arizona and National political news that Mike finds important, check out the BlogForArizona twitter feed, which he curates.