Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 March 2015
This address asks how we got to today’s politics in America; a politics of polarized political parties engaged in close political competition in a system of checks and balances. The result has often been divided control of government and an apparent inability to address major political problems. This address develops the historical foundation for these characteristics. Historically, the Founding period set the stage of separated powers and the first party system. America developed a market economy, a middle class, and a mass-based set of parties in the Antebellum period. Through the Progressive era, nation-wide reforms led to a more democratic but increasingly candidate-centered politics in the North, and the establishment of Jim Crow politics in the South. The post-War period saw the full development of candidate-centered elections. While the breakup of Jim Crow due to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s ended Jim Crow and made possible a competitive party system in the South, the later was delayed until the full implementation of the Republican’s “southern strategy” in 1980 and beyond. This set in motion the partisan polarization of today, to combine with separated powers to create what many refer to as the “current” political “dysfunction.”
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