Rally round the campfire, boys and girls.
We're going to sing a few choruses of "Kumbaya." Before it's too late.
Two items in today's New York Times provide further evidence of America's increasing fragmentation and polarization.
Item One: a series of new studies reveal the emergence of two new models for the American family -- those in which the parents are married and those in which they are just living together.
The number of couples who have kids and live together without getting married has increase twelvefold since 1970. There's nothing new about cohabitation or having kids out of wedlock; they were arguably among the natural consequences of the 1960s' sexual revolution. But the combination of the two does seem to be a new development, and it may have reached critical mass.
In fact, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, nearly half (42%) of pre-teens have lived with cohabiting parents, far more than the 24 percent whose parents have divorced.
Interestingly, this development seems to correlate with education. More than a third (34%) of white women with only a high school diploma have had a baby out of wedlock.In contrast, the rate for white college graduates is only about 2 percent.
Americans with only a high school diploma are far more likely to cohabit than are college graduates, according to the report. College-educated Americans are not only more likely to marry, they're far more likely to stay together. They not only can offer their kids more financial resources, they can also provide cultural advantages like exposure to the arts, foreign travel, and most importantly, stability.
As I've pointed out in this blog before, the education gap may be the most significant factor in creating an America of two classes.
Item two: David Campbell and Robert Putnam have figured out what truly motivates the Tea Party. Apparently, it isn't fundamentalist constitutionalism, as I suspected.
It isn't anger about "Big Government" and fear of creeping European-style socialism. It's not a reaction to the Great Recession.
And, while a Republican voting record is the strongest predictor of Tea Party membership, that doesn't explain the fire in their belly. Lots of Republicans consider the Tea Party a bit kooky.
According to Campbell and Putnam's research, what drives the Tea Party rank and file is "a desire to see religion play a prominent role in politics."
As demonstrated in Michelle Bachman's victory in the Iowa straw poll, as well as in Rick Perry's rock star welcome into the GOP presidential primaries, Tea Partiers are looking for “deeply religious” candidates. They want religion brought into political debates.
"The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government," Campbell and Putnam say, "but their rank and file are more concerned about putting God in government."
That's fodder for further political polarization because, as Campbell and Putnam point out, "while Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics."
That may be why, in national polls, the Tea Party is about as unpopular as the Christian Right.
And why Campbell and Putnam warn that "today’s Tea Party parallels the anti-Vietnam War movement which rallied behind George S. McGovern in 1972."
Remember how many kumbaya moments that election provided?