If Congress has danced at the most perilous edges of brinkmanship, we the people helped push them there.
We did it by voting lawmakers out of office when they work with the other party to craft legislation but then claiming we want Congress to compromise and seek bipartisan solutions.
We're doing it by sending to office those who promise to toe the line and continue the partisanship we say we despise.
We did it by allowing our state legislatures to draw congressional districts that are so starkly red or blue that there's little room for any other hue or viewpoint.
We did it by congregating in neighborhoods and communities with like-minded people who share our views on politics, religion, and social mores and, as a result, largely electing lawmakers who echo those views.
We the people have always tended to live, work, and play with and around people who have similar values. So no matter how many ways you slice many of the nation's neighborhoods into districts, the outcome is the same---homogeny. That's because you can't redistrict social attitudes.
"We the people do bear responsibility," said CNN senior political analyst David Gergen. "It's often been said we get the government we deserve. The polarization has come in part because the middle has fallen away and engagement has been left to the far right and far left."
A house divided
It was New Year's Eve, and few in Washington had anything to celebrate.
The 112th Congress had spent weeks in an acrimonious fight over reducing deficits and averting the fiscal cliff. The battle ended in a series of late night and early morning votes.
In those final votes, the 112th Congress stayed true to the deeply partisan course that had earned it low national approval ratings, the nickname "do-nothing" and a track record as one of the least effective in recent years.
In the House in particular, those votes seemed to reflect the districts those lawmakers represented.
The chamber's Republicans were starkly divided with 85 voting to support the measure and 151 opposing it, according to an analysis by Keith Poole, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. Among Democrats, 172 backed the measure while just 16 were opposed.
One congressional delegation's votes seemed to highlight that divide.
In North Carolina, congressional districts are either so red or blue that they trend well above the national average in that regard, said David Wasserman, House of Representatives editor at the Cook Political Report.
There are "diametrically opposed viewpoints just across the highway median from each other," Wasserman said. As a result, in votes like the fiscal cliff showdown, members of Congress "are simply responding to what their districts want."
North Carolina's congressional delegation was nearly evenly split in its fiscal cliff votes.
The "no" votes included Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents the largely white, rural and GOP-leaning 5th Congressional District, and Democrat Brad Miller. Due to Republican-friendly redistricting of an area that went to Democratic presidential candidates in the last two election cycles, Miller decided not to run for re-election to represent the 13th Congressional District.
Those voting for the measure included Democrat Rep. Mel Watt, who represents a largely urban, racially mixed 12th Congressional District, and Democrat Rep. David Price, who represents the state's more liberal-leaning Research Triangle in the 4th Congressional District.
During 2011 redistricting efforts, North Carolina's lines had to be redrawn to account for a phenomenon that political and social scientists say deeply affects partisanship ---population growth near large metro areas and a move away from rural areas.
North Carolina's redrawn 9th Congressional District's population, currently represented by Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, mushroomed by 38%. Pittenger lost urban Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, to Democrat Jennifer Roberts in the general election. But he won places like more rural Iredell County, which has a NASCAR hub.
For several generations, urban areas have tended to trend Democrat while many rural areas have remained Republican strongholds, political demographers say.
And the number of swing states, those where a presidential candidate could run a competitive campaign and nab voters on the fence, has decreased dramatically over that same period of time.
Even when attempts are made to remove partisanship from the redistricting process, those drawing the lines run up against those types of trends.
In California, a citizen-led commission, chosen randomly from a bipartisan pool of applicants, has created some of the most competitive districts in the nation with mixed results. It was hoped that by avoiding the state legislature, the redistricting process could steer clear of the type of partisanship that often marks that process.