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Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

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Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation's political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can't agree on who we are because we can't agree on who we've been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dion Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation's political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can't agree on who we are because we can't agree on who we've been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party's distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community. Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history-from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln and on to the Populists, the Progressives and the New Dealers-and also an analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. The ability of the American system to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story. Our fractious but productive past offers us the resources both to rediscover the idea of progress and to put an end to our fears of decline. Our Divided Political Heart will be required reading for all who seek a path out of our current impasse.


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Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation's political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can't agree on who we are because we can't agree on who we've been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dion Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation's political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can't agree on who we are because we can't agree on who we've been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party's distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community. Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history-from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln and on to the Populists, the Progressives and the New Dealers-and also an analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness. The ability of the American system to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story. Our fractious but productive past offers us the resources both to rediscover the idea of progress and to put an end to our fears of decline. Our Divided Political Heart will be required reading for all who seek a path out of our current impasse.

30 review for Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

  1. 5 out of 5

    Duff

    In depth discussion of the two essential elements of the American experiment: the tension between individualism and community. Seriously looks at many sides of each issue and is clear that his bias is toward the liberal/progressive...which we all know from reading his fine essays/opinion pieces. At times a bit slow going, but ultimately felt that I had such a deeper understanding of not only the process of the American political and social processes, but of my own part in it. Definitely a recomm In depth discussion of the two essential elements of the American experiment: the tension between individualism and community. Seriously looks at many sides of each issue and is clear that his bias is toward the liberal/progressive...which we all know from reading his fine essays/opinion pieces. At times a bit slow going, but ultimately felt that I had such a deeper understanding of not only the process of the American political and social processes, but of my own part in it. Definitely a recommended read, but it is not light!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    A literate, non-partisan discussion of the twin threads of the American fiber: individualism and community. The book is an enlightening review of the shifting interpretations of history throughout the years. While we are currently "divided" as a nation, Dionne proposes that this division need not be permanent or destructive. Discourse, debate and healthy disagreement are integral parts of the great American Experiment and they always will be.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    This was a very interesting and well researched history of America's two political parties and how they evolved over the last 200+ years leading up the formation of the Tea Party movement that followed the election of Barack Obama. I appreciate that Dionne was willing to hold both parties accountable for their hypocrisies and pointing out their flaws without singling either out as generally the "right or wrong" one. It was also enlightening for me as a novice to see all of the known and recorded This was a very interesting and well researched history of America's two political parties and how they evolved over the last 200+ years leading up the formation of the Tea Party movement that followed the election of Barack Obama. I appreciate that Dionne was willing to hold both parties accountable for their hypocrisies and pointing out their flaws without singling either out as generally the "right or wrong" one. It was also enlightening for me as a novice to see all of the known and recorded examples of strife between our various founders which make it unreliable to anyone today to say that they are right because "it's what the founders intended". It was strange reading this book that was published in 2012 (the middle of the Obama presidency) with the likely hope of encouraging the citizenry to come together through civil discourse, not knowing that in the following 4 years this country would become more divisive than most any living American has ever seen.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Interesting introduction to the current political philosophies espoused by the Democrats and Republicans. Shows how each party has changed in demographics and philosophy throughout each parry’s history. The book focuses on the Tea Party movement which was big when the book was published, but the overall gist of the book insofar the parties and history still hold up pretty well. The writing isn’t the most exciting ever and the author devolves into arguing for progressivism so not the most balance Interesting introduction to the current political philosophies espoused by the Democrats and Republicans. Shows how each party has changed in demographics and philosophy throughout each parry’s history. The book focuses on the Tea Party movement which was big when the book was published, but the overall gist of the book insofar the parties and history still hold up pretty well. The writing isn’t the most exciting ever and the author devolves into arguing for progressivism so not the most balanced book, but for a polemic, it’s pretty muted, which isn’t a bad thing. Still, the writing style and lack of genuine new insights into the party divisions and history thereof makes my rating a 3.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Willis

    I loved the author's perspective that we all need to be able to communicate across the political spectrum. Both in being able to see the positives and negatives on the side we agree with and the other side as well. Some great ideas.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Niral

    This book contains valuable (and copious) information on the political history of the United States. I also appreciated (and more or less agreed with) the author's main points--it's astute to make individualism/communitarianism the crucial axis of the current and ongoing debate to define what this country has been in the past and what it hopes to be in the future. The only reason this book received a mediocre rating was that it was repetitive, and its brute force approach to proving a point thro This book contains valuable (and copious) information on the political history of the United States. I also appreciated (and more or less agreed with) the author's main points--it's astute to make individualism/communitarianism the crucial axis of the current and ongoing debate to define what this country has been in the past and what it hopes to be in the future. The only reason this book received a mediocre rating was that it was repetitive, and its brute force approach to proving a point through information overload was suffocating for large chunks of the text. It seemed to me, initially, that the book was intended for a lay audience, but I quickly realized that it is actually better suited for an academic conversation; how many -isms can an average person take?? I see it as a relatively concise book of references indexed by key debates in U.S. political science. Still, I found the book useful in elucidating several historical events. The author was at his best when explaining the ideology and origin of the Tea Party movement, especially with respect to the right's dissatisfaction with Bush 43's "compassionate conservatism." I also was convinced by the connection drawn between Bush 43's philosophy and Clinton's communitarianism. It was less interesting when the author delved into the gritty details of 1800s politics. Further, I wish he had problematized the term "community" a bit more--it's romantic to say that the Founders were duly invested in community, but one has to acknowledge that most of the population was excluded from the "community." That might explain why Tea Partiers can be individualistic AND communitarian. People might feel that they are their brother's keepers, but the altruism of that sentiment depends on how they define "brother." Overall, the author's thesis is that history matters, and that it matters that we get the facts right. However, unless voters hold their representatives accountable to those facts, why would politicians bother with a truthful account of U.S. history?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jay Connor

    If rational, balanced thought ultimately loses in the marketplace of ideas for America's future, E. J. Dionne's disappointing "Our Divided Political Heart" may serve as an object lesson into why. Dionne confronts the passion and the historical fiction excesses of the Tea Party and recent conservative radicalism with such a cool, emotionally inert equanimity that one's nodding agreement quickly turns into nodding off. Dionne's central frame -- that we Americans have been struggling with the twin If rational, balanced thought ultimately loses in the marketplace of ideas for America's future, E. J. Dionne's disappointing "Our Divided Political Heart" may serve as an object lesson into why. Dionne confronts the passion and the historical fiction excesses of the Tea Party and recent conservative radicalism with such a cool, emotionally inert equanimity that one's nodding agreement quickly turns into nodding off. Dionne's central frame -- that we Americans have been struggling with the twin Angels of individuality and community since before our founding -- is not only accurate but is also the font of our unique strength. We have a profound history of moving the pendulum back and forth over the central balance between these two natures, perhaps most concretely in the Hamilton/Jefferson (commercial/agrarian) tug-o-war early in our history. The historical antecedent to the current Tea Party period is not, as they would enshrine, our revolutionary period but rather the 30 year aberration of high-individualism and robber-barons know as the Guilded Age that ended in the early 1900's during the presidency of Republican Teddy Roosevelt. Dionne says all the right things, but in such a pedantic and erudite-to-the-point-of-obfuscation manner that the reader is left either to assume that no winning idea would be this obtuse or that community could never match the red meat entertainment of conservatism: "get your governmental hands off my medicare!" But lest we leave this review with a sense of dread, I'd like to quote the non-Dionne of his time, H. L. Mencken, who observed the balance-seeking nature of the american electorate when they abandoned the Democrats of Wilson to embrace the Republicans of Warren G. Harding in 1920: "tired of the intellectual charlatanry, the electorate turns to honest imbecility."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Canfield

    Having read a number of Dionne's articles before, I had a general idea the direction he'd be taking this book. He certainly approaches it with an ideological point of view, but does a fairly good job (in most instances) of keeping this restrained. Dionne examines American history through the lens of two viewpoints-small-r republicanism, which he feels involves the bonds of community which can be nurtured through both the private and public sphere--and individualism, or radical individualism, whi Having read a number of Dionne's articles before, I had a general idea the direction he'd be taking this book. He certainly approaches it with an ideological point of view, but does a fairly good job (in most instances) of keeping this restrained. Dionne examines American history through the lens of two viewpoints-small-r republicanism, which he feels involves the bonds of community which can be nurtured through both the private and public sphere--and individualism, or radical individualism, which he believes is represented in a go-at-it-alone towards politics and life. While he feels both of these ideals have played a role in shaping America, Dionne wrote this book to express his concern that there has been a movement towards radical individualism, (particularly among one of the two major American political parties), that has been 30 years eating away at the bonds Americans used to feel toward one another. He expresses worry that we too often refer to the voting public as "They" and not "We." He also feels that politics have shifted so far to the right since the 1980s that the the "middle" is now several degrees away from where it once was. The book reads fairly quickly due to Dionne's non-choppy writing style, but be warned that some of the passages reveal Dionne's political leanings. He does raise some interesting points about how Populism/populism has been transformed and redefined since it first began in the late 19th/early 20th century, something particularly compelling now in the light of Donald Trump's primary staying power. It's not the best book on the topic of American governance I've read, but it's not the worst either. A good companion book would be Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas. Andrew Canfield Shreveport, La.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kristi Richardson

    “It is a peculiarity of the United States, and one particularly powerful at the moment, that our Constitution is not just honored but venerated. … Did it endure because we have chosen to live by every word, strictly interpreted or did it work because its language was elastic enough to accommodate the great transformations that have occurred since 1787?” Politics is on my mind this year as we elect a new president. I like reading Mr. Dionne’s columns so I thought I would give his book a chance. It “It is a peculiarity of the United States, and one particularly powerful at the moment, that our Constitution is not just honored but venerated. … Did it endure because we have chosen to live by every word, strictly interpreted or did it work because its language was elastic enough to accommodate the great transformations that have occurred since 1787?” Politics is on my mind this year as we elect a new president. I like reading Mr. Dionne’s columns so I thought I would give his book a chance. It is a well-written discourse on what is happening at this moment in our history. I enjoyed his reading of history and what really happened versus some peoples interpretations of what happened. He likes to call himself a Communitarian liberal, which means his views revolve around the community in a liberal sense. He explains that the Conservatives used to have a community based belief also until they turned it all into an individual’s freedom in place of the community as a whole. Although written by a liberal, I felt that he gave equal time to many political beliefs. He made an interesting point about George W. Bush’s early presidency. If 9/11 hadn’t happened would the Republican Party be where they are today? President Bush had pushed for a compassionate conservative party. I enjoyed this book and the views expressed in it. I will continue to read Mr. Dionne’s columns and future books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Karen Kolus

    I only understood about 60% of this book. It was super hard with long, complex sentences and lots of history I didn't really learn. Books by professors... Anyway it does explain that the root of our dilemma partially rests with Glen Beck and his incorrect portrayal of American history -- easy to read and sensational. Dionne also points a finger at the Tea Party's inaccurate understanding of the philosophy of our founding fathers and the framers of the Constitution. The Tea Party's philosophy of I only understood about 60% of this book. It was super hard with long, complex sentences and lots of history I didn't really learn. Books by professors... Anyway it does explain that the root of our dilemma partially rests with Glen Beck and his incorrect portrayal of American history -- easy to read and sensational. Dionne also points a finger at the Tea Party's inaccurate understanding of the philosophy of our founding fathers and the framers of the Constitution. The Tea Party's philosophy of a hands off government hearkens back to the Gilded Age, and not to the ideals of the framers of the Constitution who were looking to create a strong central government. Dionne talks about a baffling current form of populism that defends the elite. He also says that conservatives currently support radical individualism (as was popular during the Gilded Age) and not individualism balanced by communitarianism as our founding fathers did. Dionne points out that some periods of radical individualism were followed by financial instability and then a turning to communitarianism as the economy strengthened.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judy Alter

    Interested in this because it is praised as a truly bipartisan look at the deep political divisions in this country and a plea for a return to what the author calls the "Long Concensus," a period that covers most of the 20th Century in which Americans balanced two core values--love of individualism and love of community.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Monte Lamb

    I liked the premise of this book and the historical thread that supports it. I tend to agree with most of the author's ideas. However, I found the book difficult to get into. It seemed to slow for me and I am not sure why. It is useful material, but I would have found it to be just as useful if I had skimmed it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Savannah Williams

    Individual v. Community. I do wish he would write a whole book about the Tea Party and how they get history wrong. That was the main thing I took away from this book. I'm an advanced reader and had issues soaking up the words off the page. I plan on tackling this book again here soon and I still recommend it. Dionne has always been a favorite of mine.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Dionne exploration of how American's disagree politically is fascinating. He focuses on how different interpretations of history impact the story of America today. He elegantly argues against the Tea Party and deconstructs their created history of the U.S. A really great read for political and history buffs!

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Mcphee

    Powerfull concept. Using the first word in the US Constituion "We" and how today the US political culture has brutally diminished this defining chacteristic of what made the country such a powerful force for freedon, social and economic progress globally. I look forward to reading it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Bouw

    Interesting take on the importance of traditional American individualism vs the need for a stronger sense of sacrifice for the community and society as a whole. Written from the perspective of a progressive.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I came back to the US after 30 years abroad and found myself utterly mystified by the assumptions and attitudes in economics and politics. E.J. Dionne explained so much. I may go back and read it again. Especially in connection with Ellis's First Family about John and Abigail Adams.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Essick

    The difference between E.J.Dionne and myself is that when explaining our divided political heart, he is extremely intelligent while I am a basket case. This book went a long way to help me put things in perspective.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Shafel

    Read my review of E. J. Dionne, Jr.'s Our Divided Political Heart at mylittleheartmelodies.com. Read my review of E. J. Dionne, Jr.'s Our Divided Political Heart at mylittleheartmelodies.com.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    This is a book about the history of politics in the US. It's a bit detailed but parts of it were really fascinating especially in this election year. It was a slog at times, but I'm glad I read it and besides I really like EJ Dionne.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Harry Hemstreet

    Dionne comes to this book with a wealth of impressive credentials. A really well done look at our political history and it's relevance to our current 'divided political heart'. Based on the recent election, some people must have been reading this. Excellent.

  22. 5 out of 5

    David Chou

    A doggedly rigorous critique of our pliant political leanings which meanders through a slew of tepid anecdotes. It struggles to hold the casual reader's interest and blessedly closes with a succinct appeal to embracing the community spirit.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I learned a lot from the book, but found some parts hard to get through.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    On revisionist history and how important the process is to interpretations of contemporary political, economic, and civic identities. New to me.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

    Recommended to me via Sam Penrose in Bay Area Refactorers

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    This is a timely read. It's going to be quoted for years to come. I hope more people listen to Mr. Dionne.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    I actually have not finished but it seems like a good overview of how we got where we are. Knowing this can we figure out how to move on?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    An excellent summary of the current state of affairs in the political realm from one of today's most insightful political columnists.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marty

    It is good. I wish now i had read it more compactly, rather than spread out like i did. Concerns our different and differing political goals.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Smart and timely given the political stalemate esp in Congress. Puts things in context

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