Unlike Caesar, who divided Gaul into three parts, Michael Barone divides America into two parts–hard America and soft America.
As Inky readers probably know, Barone’s new book is titled “Hard America, Soft America, Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future.”
The soft/hard designation is as illuminating of the great divide in this the country as the red/blue description we saw four years ago on that long election night that stretched past Thanksgiving.
Former Delaware governor Pete Du Pont in today’s Wall Street Journal sees the soft/hard view as a way to examine recent U.S. electoral history and to look at the import of the coming election.
“Soft policies, Mr. Barone writes, are ‘the product of elites–the advocates of the regulatory state and welfare state protections,’ while the hardening of the ’80s and ’90s ’came not from centralized elites, but from decentralized ordinary people,’ who desired higher incomes, more choices and safer communities.”
“With the postwar enthusiasm of the 1950s,” writes Du Pont, “America’s policies softened. In the ’60s and ’70s government grew, regulation increased, welfare programs expanded, crime rose while prison populations dropped, schools lowered standards and limited testing, and the distribution of wealth became more important than its creation. As Lyndon B. Johnson said, we must accept ‘greater government activity in the affairs of the people.’
“Then came Ronald Reagan with the opposite view, and the ’80s and 90’s saw a hardening America, one in which liberty was more important than equality, so that expanding markets became more important than expanding government. Welfare was replaced with work, mandatory sentencing drove prison populations up and crime rates down, education began to return to testing and standards, and the creation of greater national and individual wealth became our economic focus.”
Soft/hard seems to be the perennial decision before the American electorate.