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Uniting America

Uniting America: Restoring the Vital Center to American Democracy

Norton Garfinkle
Daniel Yankelovich
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Uniting America
    Book Description:

    InUniting America,some of the country's most prominent social thinkers-among them Francis Fukuyama, Daniel Yankelovich, Amitai Etzioni, Alan Wolfe, Uwe Reinhardt, and Thomas E. Mann-reject the myth of polarization. On topics ranging from the war on terrorism, health care, economic policy, and Social Security to religion, diversity, and immigration, the authors argue that there are sensible, centrist solutions that are more in keeping with prevailing public sentiment and that would better serve the national interest. On issue after issue, the authors show how the conventional framing of the debate in Washington has misled Americans, creating a series of false dilemmas and forcing choices between two extremes-at the expense of more balanced and pragmatic policy solutions based on enduring American values.Uniting Americaprovides a blueprint for a fresh approach to American politics, grounded in moderation, pragmatism, and the shared values that unite Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13318-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Norton Garfinkle and Daniel Yankelovich
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    One of the striking developments of the post–September 11 era has been the disappearance of the center from American politics. The U.S. Congress stands polarized as almost never before, with few moderates in either party attempting to bridge the rancorous divide between Republicans and Democrats. Backed by Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Bush administration has determinedly pushed U.S. foreign and domestic policy to the right, while various constituencies have simultaneously pulled the Democratic Party to the left. Both parties seek to claim the center for electoral purposes, but neither party seems in a mood to build...

  5. Part One. Restoring the Vital Center

    • Chapter 1 Overcoming Polarization: The New Social Morality
      (pp. 17-30)
      Daniel Yankelovich

      Today’s political thinking is colored in tones of red and blue. In the 2000 election, the two coasts and a few states in the Great Lakes region voted Democratic (blue), and the heartland, the South, and most of the Southwest voted Republican (red). In the 2004 election, the red/blue division proved even starker—a sea of red edged in blue. The red/blue theory argues that our nation is being transformed from unity to divisiveness, from pragmatism to ideology, from comity to bitter partisanship, from willingness to compromise to unyielding rigidity. According to the red/blue polarization thesis, we have evolved into...

    • Chapter 2 Nurturing Economic Growth and the Values of American Democracy
      (pp. 31-46)
      Norton Garfinkle

      The goals of economic policy in a democratic society are not hard to spell out. Modern democracies need stable economic growth. Democratic governments must also raise sufficient taxes to pay for national defense and for essential services. At times governments can, and have, run deficits, yet in the long run, most sensible economists would agree that unchecked government borrowing will undermine both growth and stability. In addition, since the time of the Great Depression, and especially since the end of World War II, there has been a broad understanding among Americans that government must use its monetary and fiscal tools...

  6. Part Two. Reforming Social Security and Health Care

    • Chapter 3 Social Security and Medicare Reform for the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 49-66)
      Will Marshall

      The age wave, a demographic tsunami of unprecedented proportions, is gathering on the horizon. It will break upon America in just six years, when the oldest of the 77 million baby boomers start turning sixty-five. The impact on our country’s finances and social insurance systems will be tremendous, yet for years our political leaders have done little to lessen the coming shock. On the contrary, America’s deeply polarized politics threatens to turn this big but manageable challenge into a full-blown crisis.

      Only now is Washington beginning to confront our demographic dilemmas, beginning with Social Security. Standing in the way of...

    • Chapter 4 The Ethics of America’s Health Care Debate
      (pp. 67-90)
      Tsung-mei Cheng and Uwe E. Reinhardt

      In the wake of the demise of the Clinton Health Security Plan, one of the present authors asked readers of theJournal of the American Medical Associationthe following fundamental question: “As a matter of national policy, and to the extent that a nation’s health system can make it possible, should the child of a poor American family have the same chance of avoiding preventable illness or being cured from a given illness as does the child of a rich American family?”¹

      The question triggered a number of letters, none of them answering it in the affirmative. Physicians responding to...

  7. Part Three. Diversity and Unity

    • Chapter 5 Religion as Unifier and Divider
      (pp. 93-108)
      Alan Wolfe

      It has been a long time since religion was thought of as a unifying force. The moment to which such a description perhaps best applies occurred during the height of Christendom, in say, the fourteenth or fifteenth century, when at least one of the world’s great monotheistic religions, Catholicism, could claim something like universal status. That, of course, changed with the Protestant Reformation, but even after that epochal event, when Latin remained the lingua franca of the intellectuals and the Tridentine Mass became an unchanging liturgy for ordinary Catholic believers, Catholicism was hardly universal, even in its own bailiwick. Eastern...

    • Chapter 6 Diversity, Community, and Government
      (pp. 109-123)
      Peter H. Schuck

      American society has always been diverse—regardless of how one defines or measures diversity. This remarkable heterogeneity dates from the very beginnings of the republic. Historian Jon Butler has documented the strikingly ethnically varied nature of American colonial society as early as the late seventeenth century.¹ Jill Lepore notes that the proportion of non-English speakers in the United States was actually greater in 1790 than in the highly diverse society of 1990.² Language being a good proxy for culture, it is evident that we were from the outset, and are today, a polyglot society, a nation of nations.

      What have...

    • Chapter 7 Immigration and Social Disorder
      (pp. 124-138)
      Peter Skerry

      If there is one thing that social scientists have learned since the 1960s and then succeeded in passing on to the wider society, it is the importance of the mundane, informal relations of daily life for the healthy functioning of our neighborhoods and institutions. Back in 1961, when urban planners were still buoyed by a professional hubris sustained by the arrogant abstractions of postwar modernism, Jane Jacobs wrote: “The first thing to understand is that the public peace . . . of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an...

  8. Part Four. Security and Liberty

    • Chapter 8 Fighting the War on Terrorism
      (pp. 141-154)
      Francis Fukuyama

      In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States embarked on a “war on terrorism” that within eighteen months unseated two regimes halfway across the world. The war to remove the Taliban regime and oust Al Qaeda from Afghanistan was broadly supported around the world, but the war to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq was highly controversial and made America’s role in the world one of the chief issues in global politics. The unilateral manner in which the latter intervention was undertaken set off a huge backlash, particularly in the Middle East and among America’s European allies....

    • Chapter 9 Constitutional Responsibility in the War on Terrorism
      (pp. 155-178)
      Michael Vatis

      The first three years of the war on terrorism were characterized largely by congressional silence on some of the key issues involved in that war. This allowed the Bush administration to assert nearly exclusive executive authority to fight the war on its own terms. It also led, not surprisingly, to instances of executive encroachment on individual liberties that ultimately caused the judiciary to step in. The most conspicuous example of this pattern concerns the detention and interrogation of individuals deemed by the president to be “enemy combatants.”

      What accounts for Congress’s abdication of its responsibility during the war on terrorism?...

  9. Part Five. Character, Citizenship, and Values

    • Chapter 10 Character Education and the Challenge of Raising a Moral Generation
      (pp. 181-197)
      Chester E. Finn Jr.

      Every society, primitive or sophisticated, has devised mechanisms for teaching its young what they must know to succeed as adult members of that community. This preparation-and-induction process typically inculcates the society’s essential skills, rules, and mores, as well as its core values.

      In advanced countries, this process engages myriad institutions, including family, neighborhood and church, a host of other civil society organizations, and—our present focus—the system of formal education.

      In the United States, just about everyone agrees that we want to raise moral, well-behaved, and civic-minded children, and we look to schools to help accomplish this. Indeed, we...

    • Chapter 11 Citizenship, Civic Unity, and National Service
      (pp. 198-210)
      William A. Galston

      The concept of “civic society” encompasses both the ensemble of voluntary associations and informal social attachments known as “civil society” and the official institutions and processes of political life.¹ Citizenship is the name we give to formal membership in a particular civic community. It is a legal status carrying with it a bundle of legal rights and duties. While informal membership in civil society does not have a generally accepted name, and its defining characteristics are fuzzy, it involves a special sense of identification with other members and the belief that in some important respects their fate is intertwined with...

    • Chapter 12 The Fair Society
      (pp. 211-224)
      Amitai Etzioni

      We must work together for a fair society: a society in which everyone is treated with full respect, recognizing that we are all God’s children. A society in which no one—adult or child—is left behind. A place in which such moral commitments are truly honored rather than served up as hollow promises. A society in which one’s race, ethnicity, country of origin, religion, gender, and sexual preference matter not. A society in which every person is treated with the dignity they are entitled to by merely being human.

      A fair society is one in which no one is...

  10. Part Six. Environmental and Electoral Reform

    • Chapter 13 Toward a Sustainable Environmentalism
      (pp. 227-244)
      Mark Sagoff

      The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1969, responded to the first of three stages in the development of environmental thought. In the 1960s the environmental movement focused on protecting human health, safety, and welfare from visible harms that were caused by substantial and clearly identifiable industrial, municipal, and other sources of pollution. In its second stage after the passage of NEPA, environmental thought expanded its focus to include less visible and less demonstrable dangers—for example, smaller amounts of hazardous wastes and toxic substances that were possible carcinogens, the...

    • Chapter 14 Is Reform of America’s Electoral System Possible?
      (pp. 245-264)
      Thomas E. Mann

      Since September 11, the self-declared vision of America as “the world’s oldest and greatest democracy” has played an increasingly prominent role in supporting an ever more assertive U.S. foreign policy.¹ Many Americans take for granted the proposition—oft articulated in different ways by the George W. Bush administration and by presidents before him—that the United States, acting resolutely to promote its own interests and values, will perforce advance freedom, prosperity, security, and democracy around the world.

      Yet this view of the United States as an inherently progressive and benign power, while widely shared among Americans (and not without historical...

  11. Conclusion: The Impact of Fateful Trends
    (pp. 265-268)

    What future is there today for a centrist agenda in American politics? At present neither major party can lay undisputed claim to the vital center. But there are important trends at work that may eventually compel our political leaders to soften their partisan stance and cooperate to shape a more pragmatic middle course.

    The first is the aging of the population. Demographic shifts of the magnitude of the Baby Boom’s retirement are the political equivalent of climate change: it is we who must adjust to them, rather than vice versa. Neither major party at present has a formula capable of...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 269-270)
  13. Index
    (pp. 271-287)