TPM Cafe: Opinion

In modern-day America, the red and blue divide is such a common way to describe the increasing polarization in politics that it is taken as gospel. These distinctions, however, don’t get to the core of the deep, cultural issues that divide the nation and fail to help us understand how and why circumstances in states vary across the U.S.

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Did Tom Junod have any idea of the shit storm he’d provoke when he wrote his love letter to the slightly older female? He delivered it like roses, like a knight rescuing the formerly middle-aged woman from ignominy. He even gave a nod to feminism for empowering the object of his lust. Somewhere, there is a 42-year-old woman who read those words and felt the embrace of acceptance fall over her sculpted shoulders like a fresh blowout. Maybe it helped push her through her hundredth Pilates Hundred. Maybe there are thousands of these women clinking glasses of rosé in triumph. But I have not seen them sharing this article on Facebook with smiley emojis. What I’ve seen has been the entire internet rolling its eyes in unison.

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Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act. Introduced in large part in response to the increased assault on reproductive rights that has occurred since 2010, it it’s hard not to feel a special kind of urgency right now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Hat Trick of Dangerous Rulings: Massachusetts buffer zones, Hobby Lobby, and Wheaton College. While the Act does not address health insurance or clinic access, it does take on TRAP laws, unnecessary clinic structural modifications, politically motivated physician scripts, and intrusive and unwarranted procedures (transvaginal ultrasound, I’m looking at you).

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Louis Brandeis once described the states as the “laboratories of democracy” — places where you can experiment with different policy options to see what works. The 2010 elections gave a handful of new Republican governors the chance to use their states as laboratories. So how are they doing?

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We know through Edward Snowden that the government, the National Security Agency (NSA) in particular, has been spying on all of us. But now we have conclusive proof that the NSA also had some specific targets for their surveillance: Muslim Americans. No one is entirely shocked given the treatment of Muslim Americans and even those perceived to be Muslim Americans in the post 9-11 era. In the thirteen years since that awful day, the Muslim community has endured much: numerous hate crimes; graffiti and vandalism on mosques, homes and businesses; and very public animosity against an entire community that is being targeted merely on the basis of their faith.

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A President elected twice in large part because Americans trusted his judgment in a dangerous and complicated world has seen that confidence dissipate. First-term national security accomplishments included the end of the Iraq War, unprecedented counterterrorist military-intelligence cooperation culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, the restoration of badly-damaged partnerships in Europe, and the development of new ones in the Middle East and Asia. Now, the nightly news is dominated by disintegration in Iraq, questions about U.S. spine and leadership in Syria and Ukraine, the rise of new terrorist threats in the Middle East and Africa, and Snowden-infused pendulum shifts in public attitudes about the balance between privacy and security. All the while, public debate about America’s role in a complicated world has largely devolved into false choices between deploying the 82nd Airborne and helpless passivity.

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The longer the results of the Mississippi GOP Senate runoff remain in any sort of doubt, the more public discussion of the Republican Party’s attitude toward the African-American voters who seem to have played a key role in re-nominating Sen. Thad Cochran becomes a potentially dangerous topic for the party as a whole.

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During my time in Iraq and Syria, first as a soldier and then as a refugee advocate, I have had the pleasure of knowing many Sunni-Shia couples — some of whom charmingly dub their children “sushi.” During the initial reconstruction of Baghdad, I knew them as friends and colleagues. Later, as opportunistic fanatics of all stripes began turning Iraqis against one another through acts of ever-escalating violence, I knew them as courageous but increasingly threatened moderates. In the final years of the Iraq War, and through the civil war in Syria, I have mostly known them as refugees, survivors of violence and torture, widows, and orphans.

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