LOCAL PERSPECTIVE | One Region, Two Worldviews
by Seth Cagin
Nov 01, 2012 | 1937 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Here are some really safe election predictions. Barack Obama will handily win San Miguel County. Mitt Romney will take Montrose by a landslide. Ouray County will be split.

Here’s a wild guess.  The presidential candidate who wins Ouray will take the White House.

We are a microcosm of the United States, here in the Western San Juans, with a deeply divided political heart.  And, like an electoral map of the United States, we live in deep blue and deep red areas, and in swing “states.” Living here, we can see how it works.  Ouray, in between Telluride and Montrose geographically, really is half blue and half red culturally and politically.  It’s not at all that the average Ouray County resident is more “moderate,” whatever that means, and therefore a Ouray County resident might vote red in one election and blue in another.  It’s just that it is more likely he sees the world differently from his neighbor, than those of us who live in less swingy precincts.

There are many theories about how and why this deepening polarization in our political and cultural life has happened.   But there is no doubt that it is real, and it plays out not only on issues in the national election but in local issues as well.  Which is why our three counties – San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose – have such different local governments, ranging from San Miguel/Telluride activist government (nanny state?) to Montrose libertarianism/social conservatism (dog-eat-dog cronyism?) to Ouray, again, duking it out between the two impulses.

Those parenthetical thoughts, by the way, are roughly how reds see blue and blues see red, as opposed to how they see themselves.

Here’s one interesting factoid that speaks to the Great American Political Divide.  In 1960, according to a recent study by a Stanford University political scientist, five percent of Americans would have been displeased or upset if their daughter married a man of the opposite political party. In 2010, about 40 percent felt that way (about 50 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats.)  To be fair to the study’s authors, the reason, they believe, has less to do with ideology than it does with tribal sentiments, fired up by partisanship.  And interestingly, loyalty to the “tribe” is a Republican trait, in other studies I’ve read, which may account for the greater sentiment on this score among Republicans than Democrats.  

But whether it’s tribal loyalties or ideological differences, the upshot is that we are increasingly living in two Americas: one where the first instinct is to push back against government “overreach” and the other where the first instinct is to be wary of private greed and unbridled self-interest, and never the twain shall meet.

And this is why The Watch so rarely does political endorsements.  Political discourse in America, and even in our small corner of it, is mostly about pressing forward with the favorite arguments proffered one or the other of these opposing camps.  

Does anyone ever really convince anyone else?  Even in newspaper editorial departments, the battle is over which side has the votes and power to make the call, and trying to split the difference always strikes me, in the current political climate, as forced.

We are thus in the midst of a gigantic political experiment, nationally and locally. Montrose will surely continue on its path, at least for a while, and Telluride will continue in the opposite philosophical direction.  Ouray is likely to remain swingy.  In this one region – at the same time we are growing more and more economically interdependent – more and more divergent cultures. One might say the same thing about Mississippi and Vermont.

Which way the national ship of state will move is to be determined, on Tuesday.

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