Following American politics today is like riding a roller coaster in the dark—there is no way to know where it’s going to turn next. This dramatic ride is exacerbated by increasing polarization in both our political system and social communities. Those are just a few of the many takeaways left by journalist and political pundit Mara Liasson, political correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and regular contributor on the Fox News Channel, when she addressed the crowd at WHA’s Advocacy Day 2018.
Liasson said today’s political polarization is “the biggest and most important dynamic in American politics today,” and that it can be seen most clearly in Congress where conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans used to come together in the center to make deals and move legislation forward. However, today, we have congressional gridlock, which has led to stagnation on a myriad of legislative issues from gun control to immigration to tariffs and, of course, health care.
Because of this, people are turning to their state governments to get things done, particularly when it comes to health care in the wake of failed attempts to repeal the ACA.
“What your health care looks like depends on where you live,” Liasson said. “Blue states are going to have systems more like the ACA, and red states are going to have systems more like pre-ACA.”
Liasson made note of state governments that are innovating and taking the lead, including what has been accomplished here in Wisconsin. “You’ve been able to bring your uninsured rate down, and even if you haven’t expanded Medicaid, you’ve been able to get more people on Medicaid,” she said. “You are using the tools of the ACA to shape the system to your own needs. And that is the trend we’ll see continuing—more and more states taking the lead.”
Despite national polarization, she noted Gov. Scott Walker’s approach to health care saying, “Look at your own Governor. He’s found bipartisan solutions for some of these problems, and I think [it’s] possible.”
When looking ahead to the November elections, Liasson predicts an increased focus on local issues, furthering this look to state governments for progress. While midterm elections are traditionally seen as a referendum on the majority party and incumbent president, no single issue will dominate the national conversation this fall. Rather, the hot issues will depend on where you live and what matters locally, such as gun control in Florida.
Liasson doesn’t see our national polarization going away anytime soon, but does sense a change in engagement. “There is a tremendous upsurge in basic, ordinary, day-to-day citizenship,” with more people paying attention and running for office at all levels of government.