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Year in Review: Politics of polarization dominated U.S. news

Martin Desmarais | 12/30/2013, 1:38 p.m.
On the national stage, the politics of polarization were on display with Democrats and Republicans locking horns over the roll-out ...
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for an official dinner at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, June 27, 2013. (P (Photo courtesy of the White House)

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Crowds gathered in Dudley Square on Sunday night to protest the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

On the national stage, the politics of polarization were on display with Democrats and Republicans locking horns over the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, voting rights laws and myriad other issues.

Nothing embodied the partisan divide as much as the government shutdown that held the nation hostage this fall. While the shutdown technically ran for 16 days from Sept. 30 to Oct. 17 — five fewer than the last government shutdown in 1995 — the political battles between the Democrats and the Republicans leading up to, during and after the shutdown left most of the American public with little confidence in the government’s ability to solve problems.

Technically, the shutdown was a result of GOP lawmakers holding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act hostage, despite its passage in Congress in 2010 and survival of a Supreme Court challenge in 2012. The shutdown was ended after Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed to extend funding for government services until January 2014 with only minor adjustments to the law, which has become known as Obamacare.

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(Photo courtesy of the White House)

President Barack Obama talks with Tom Grilk, head of the Boston Athletic Association, as he greets first responders and marathon volunteers at Cathedral High School in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2013. The President and First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Boston to attend an interfaith prayer service dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Even after the Congressional battle over the Affordable Care Act and the resulting government shutdown were resolved for the time being, the launch of Obamacare did little to quell doubters when the program went online and was immediately plagued by delays, glitches and long waits to enroll. The main website launched to handle enrollment but suffered technical difficulties, causing frustration for millions of users.

Beyond partisan politics, the other defining divide of 2013 was economic — the growing divide between the top ten percent of wage earners and the rest of the nation. Wages for the middle- and working-class have hit a 40-year low, while unemployment rates for African Americans have remained at near Depression levels.

Race issues take center stage

Thanks to a slew of prominent whites with a seeming inability to filter their public utterances, race remained a hot topic throughout 2013.

In June, celebrity chef, cooking show host and prolific cookbook author Paula Deen became embroiled in a racism controversy when a discrimination lawsuit brought against her by a former employee led to a deposition in which she admitted to using the N-word. Though Deen said she hadn’t used the word in a long time, her nonchalant attitude toward the use of racist epitaphs and their history in the South angered many. The blowback was quick and fierce.

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President Barak Obama visited Boston in November to promote the Affordable Care Act, which was plagued by delays and computer glitches on its website.

The Food Network announced it would not renew Deen’s contract when it expired. Smithfield Foods dropped her as a spokeswoman. Other companies including Walmart, Target, QVC, Caesars Entertainment, Home Depot, Novo Nordisk, J.C. Penney, Sears and Kmart have terminated or suspended endorsement deals with Deen. Her book publisher, Ballantine Books, cancelled its five-book deal with her.

Cooking queen Deen wasn’t the only face in the media in a controversy surrounding the use of the N-word. The NFL had its own racism controversy in October when reports emerged out of the Miami Dolphins organization that veteran white player Richie Incognito was accused of using racial slurs and threatening second-year African American player Jonathan Martin, which led to Martin’s decision to quit, citing concerns about not feeling safe with the team.