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America's Growing Divide

September 1, 2003

As the polarization of America widens, emotional appeal has replaced rational debate. Compromise is hardly possible on key questions. Truth is lost; facts are indiscernible. There's a poll available for any political position, or at least a convenient interpretation.

The trauma of the Florida presidential vote count continues. Hardcore democrat voters still refuse to refer to G. W. Bush as the President. As Al Hunt recently pointed out, "some prominent politicians outside of Washington literally turn off the television set when the president appears."

Now, politics is less about persuasion than turning out the base. Bush Presidential advisor Karl Rove proved that in the last election cycle. True, thirty-second commercials were used effectively to attack democrat candidates for Congress. But the key to republican mid-term election success was effective ground operations. Turning out the base the old fashion way - one voter at a time through direct contact. The media, or air war, was secondary -- emotionally packed to play on the polarized voters' emotions.

There's a natural parallel in business. A political campaign is like product or service marketing. Both use statistical research, media advertising, direct marketing and of course, "branding." In the world of marketing, a healthy debate ensues over the power of persuasion. Joe Cappo, now a senior vice president of Crain Communications (which publishes Advertising Age,) believes the thirty- second commercial has lost its effectiveness. The consumer is harder to reach. The ad is too disconnected from the primary mission of advertising, namely, to sell. Direct marketing is less sexy, but more necessary now in the segmentation of the consumer.

Karl Rove and every currently successful political campaign manager recognize this. Thirty second political ads are now not intended to educate. They're less persuasive; they're emotional triggers now. Whether political debates in Congress or political ads, the intent is the same: to play on emotions. It's the result of an emotionally charged and polarized America -- left coast and right coast, Urban and rural, the red states and blue states. A call to arms, not a call to evaluate. The Right had Bill Clinton, now the Left have George Bush.

This year's political main event captures it all. The California recall is a culminating political nightmare. Sixty days long, a sprint, a dozen main candidates, and hastily organized debates. This is the country's largest state, with junk bond ratings and in a deep economic slowdown (except in the L.A. Basin.) The outcome will be decided by emotion not logic, facts, or policies. Stripped of any time to layout plans and positions, it will be sensational. Like the difference between the thoughtful articles of weekly news magazines, and the staccato scandalism of supermarket checkout counter rags, this year's main attraction is more entertainment than political. More a popularity contest than an election. Emotions will decide the Governor of the country's largest state.

Emotions will may also decide the next presidential election. Such is the case with a nation in turmoil, and polarized. Civil strife is the next stage of national polarization, not necessarily consequent. The divide between the left and right is not state-based. There will be no succession from the Union, no civil war, as we've known it. We are, however, far from in remission. The worst is ahead. The absurdity and confusion of the California recall previews of what's to come.

Usually it is a catastrophe that sobers up the nation and subsides the polarization. We know now 9-1-1 was not enough. That in itself shows how deep run's America's divide.

Write to Arthur at bruzzone@rightturns.com


Arthur Bruzzone has written over 250 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political and urban issues for American and European television and radio networks.  He is an award-winning public affairs television producer/host.His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. Mr. Bruzzone holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy from C.U.A in Washington , D.C., and a M.B.A. in real estate. He is a returned Peace Corps volunteer serving two years in the Kingdom of Tonga, and the former chair of the San Francisco Republican Party. He is president of a real estate investment company headquartered in San Francisco, CA.

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