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Whether you consider anti-Obama conservatives racist or pro-Obama liberals racist, there's no question that, culturally, things are not so peachy between the right and the left just now. Less than a year ago, Barack Obama's victory seemed to herald a post-partisan age, but today we're at each other's throats. What happened? Why are Red and Blue America so intractably opposed? Columnists offer theories on America's split.

  • Irresponsible Leadership  Chris Matthews and former Democratic congressman Kweisi Mfume blamed congressional leaders for allowing the fringe to dominate. "Maybe we are starting to enter that uncharted area where people feel free enough to act out what they want to do," Mfume said, criticizing both Republican and Democratic leaders who refused to condemn fringe elements. "And so skinheads become more outspoken and the bigots become more outspoken."

    Matthews agreed. "There was a time when people like William F. Buckley would stand up to those in the conservative movement who were Birchers, who were John Birch Society types who thought that Eisenhower, General Eisenhower, was a communist," Matthews said. "There are those who thought that being a conservative meant being anti-Semitic. People like Bill Buckley stood up and said, 'No way can you be part of our movement.' Where are the conservatives out there saying, 'Don't bring a gun to a political meeting, this isn't the '30s in Germany?'"
  • The God Gap  David Gibson wrote, "[T]he religious right is increasingly being matched by a nascent 'religious left.'" Gibson suggested a "vast" divide between the two, which is spilling over into mainstream politics. "Conservatives are focused on two main issues -- abortion and same-sex marriage -- while liberals spread their concerns more widely and focus on pocketbook issues like poverty and health care and jobs. Faith versus works, one might say," he wrote. Gibson cites Abraham Lincoln's observation that both sides in the Civil War believed in the same god, yet invoked Him against the other side. "Nearly 150 years later, that peculiar dynamic still seems to be at work."
  • Hamiltonians vs. Jeffersonians  That's the divide cited by David Brooks. Alexander Hamilton, Brooks said, inspired today's liberal movement of "urbanism, industrialism and federal power," while Thomas Jefferson godfathered the "populist" movement of "small-town virtues and limited government." Brooks noted that, although today's Jeffersonians are  conservative, they have at other times been liberal, as with the labor movement. Obama's strong Hamiltonian tendencies, Brooks suggested, "guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash" which was sure to be "ill mannered, conspiratorial and over the top."
  • Americans are Simply Scared and Confused  The Washington Post's Jim Sleeper suggested that what looks like partisan fighting is really "fear and rage" prompted by a confusing era and economic recession. "The thwarted decency in them is trying to find a political home, a sense of civic standing that is slipping away," he wrote. "And now, such individuals are looking for someone or something to blame." Sleeper points to misplaced anger that, lacking an easy target, is easily directed by partisan figures and pundits. "Anything will serve, if it spares them having to face being had by the unaccountable powers and riptides that are destroying their dreams."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.