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Phony Wars and Rumors of War--And the Battle in the States

As Election Day recedes into memory and the harsh realities of day-to-day politics return, I've been covering several key developments at the Washington Monthly.

One is the increasingly phony "struggle for the soul of the Republican Party" in which ideology stands virtually untouched, only a few strategic options are discussed, and most of the heat is over tactics, personalities, and blame. There's now a phony conservative "backlash" building against phony criticism of conservatives, and you have to get up close to discern who is in what camp, so small are the differences.

The first signs of intra-Democratic dissension are emerging in the jittery anticipation of a possible fiscal agreement. But so far, this, too is a phony war, with factional mistrust and rumored behind-the-scenes betrayals taking the place of significant substantive disagreement.

As those focused on national politics await real news in the maneuvering on taxes and spending, a different reality is emerging in the states, where polarization on Election Day generally produced not gridlock but big partisan majorities. Divided control of state governments is at an historic low, and both parties have achieved super-majority status in a significant number of state legislative chambers. So even as pundits complain of unproductive stalemate in Washington, we could be on the brink of an era where states move in very different directions on a whole host of policy fronts, making the continuation of a federal safety net and regulatory presence more important than ever.