Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bill Clinton says Bill Bishop's 'Big Sort' proves 'Some of us are gonna have to cross the street'

The Rural Blog doesn't make a habit of promoting books, because we tend to focus on events that illustrate trends, but when Bill Clinton recommends a book by one of our friends, we must make an exception. The book is The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. It's written by Bill Bishop, who inspired The Rural Blog, helped start the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and is on our national advisory board. Here's what Clinton, speaking at this year's Aspen Ideas Festival, above, said about the book and Bishop:

"We can maximize our impact if we reach out to people who are different from ourselves . . . I want to recommend a book . . . He says . . . we are growing more isolated in our communities because we are living more and more only with people we agree with, and we are growing more isolated in our political debates because . . . we look at the television news and we read the Web sites of people who confirm what we think already. This is not good in a democracy. And so I urge you to read it.

"I’ll just give you one little factoid about it: In 1976 when President Carter and President Ford had a very close race for president. It was close in America. There were only 32 percent of our counties that voted for either one of them by more than 20 percent. Everywhere else in America there was a raging ongoing debate among friends and neighbors and people who went to church or synagogue or mosque or wherever together; they were all sitting there talking about this, and they were trying to build a sense of national unity out of their genuine concerns and debates. By 2004 ... it was also very close, but 48 1/2 percent of our counties voted for one or the other of them by more than 20 points.

"And Bishop [right] has got a story in here, unbelievable story, about a brilliant developer in Southern California who did a market survey, and he found that in the area where he had the property, so he had to do the development, conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats were almost evenly divided, so, and he had one gated community he had to build, so on the left side he built houses that suited conservative Republicans, and on the right side he built places where you could have yoga and meditation and everything (laughter) that suited liberal Democrats, and he actually sold it out immediately, divided exactly as he had predicted, from his market surveys. Now, we’re laughing about this, but some of us are gonna have to cross the street, folks. That’s the last thing I want to say to you. I, we gotta --- (applause)

"It was an amazing thing. So that’s the other thing I would say to young people: Do public service, not just with somebody who looks different that you do, but who thinks differently than you do. The way to --- we don’t need a phony unity in this country. The founding fathers understood that debate and differences were healthy, but you have to have them in a way that allows you to see the person who disagrees with you as a human being. Once we start doing big things together, we’ll figure out how to do it and we’ll do just fine. . . . "

For the full video clip, click here. For our own review of the book, in The Courier-Journal, click here. To hear Bishop discuss America’s political divide on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, click here. The Big Sort's Web page is here. Bishop will speak and sign books at Carmichael's bookstore in Louisville at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 13, at at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington at 7 p.m. Monday, July 14.

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