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As Long as We Remember...

March 2, 2010

A Great Divide Vanquished

Nick Diaz

Enough with this “bipartisan” nonsense. Enough about “divisiveness.” Let’s go back to 2004, an election year.


Back then, President George W. Bush was consistently criticized by candidates Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, John Edwards, (and whoever else ran or wished he had run), as being a “divisive” figure. Each of the Democrat contenders affirmed that he, and only he, will be able to unite Americans.


John Kerry said more than once that President Bush used “wedge issues” to divide the American people. Former Vermont Governor Dean, before he imploded like a vegan soufflé, mentioned being tired of our being divided by race, abortion, gay rights, and other issues.


Then North Carolina Senator Edwards had this thing about the “two Americas.” An America for privileged people on one hand, and an America for the rest of us. Meanwhile, editorialists were fretting about the terrible fissures in American life dividing Americans.




Yes, President Bush divided America, but so did President Bill Clinton before him. So would have a President Al Gore and a President Kerry (if their voters had only exercised good common sense, they would say). So would have President Clark, President Gephardt, and even President Sharpton, if any of them had managed to win the 2004 election.


We Americans have somehow managed to make our presidents the symbols of a culture war, and that means they’ll continue to have little chance of uniting us in the future, as long as we the people are culturally divided. I’m not even sure that the American presidents in my lifetime as an American have ever united the American people in the manner longed for by the hand-wringing unity multitudes.


That brings me to the nonsense about this “divided America” misguided sentiment.


Spare me the “more divided than ever” talk, please, until we see more than a half million American bodies stacked up like cordwood, which is what took place in the years 1861 to 1865. We were really divided then, what with all the shooting each other and stuff. Even in places where there was no shooting, we were severely divided. The New York draft riots, for example, featured mobs of 50,000 angry New Yorkers who burned big chunks of the city over three days. I know the 2000 Florida recount was a big deal and all, but let's get a little perspective.


It seems to me that one could make a persuasive argument that America was more deeply divided in, let's see: the 1780s, 1790s, 1840s, 1850s, 1860s, 1890s, 1920s, 1930s, 1960s, 1970s, and possibly the 1980s and 1990s.


Now, I could concede that we are now more evenly divided than at any time — possibly including the Civil War period. Evenly divided people, however, can, and often do, settle their differences with nerf bats or wet noodles, or over a game of checkers or whiffleball, or even at the ballot box. Deeply divided people, on the other hand, are more likely to use guns, knives, and really pointy rocks to settle their differences.


In other words, living in an evenly divided society is an interesting challenge politically, but not a really big problem. Living in a deeply divided society, by contrast, is cause for stocking up on bottled water, Ramen soup, C-rations, and shotgun shells.


The idea that citizens should rally around a common purpose specifically expressed through government action has been around for a while, but it never really caught on in America until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Of course, Americans were deeply divided then, too; and lots of people loathed FDR for what he did. In fact, when FDR encountered constitutional resistance to his vision, he tried to pack the courts – so much for trying to unite people. Left-wingers forget, or dismiss, the discord of the FDR years – or they salute him for steamrolling his critics – because they like what he did. FDR triumphed, and to the triumphant belong the history books.




In fact, I think what bothers so many Americans on the Left about living in a "divided nation" is not that people are split, but that the Left has not been getting its way.


Let’s return to 2004: Candidate Dean constantly invoked the 1960s as a time when America was really pulling together with common purpose. It was "a time of great hope," Mr. Dean declared. "Medicare had passed. Head Start had passed, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the first black person appointed as a Supreme Court Justice. We felt like we were all in it together, that we all had responsibility for this country; that if one person was left behind, then America wasn't as strong, or as good as it could be, or as it should be. That's the kind of country that I want back."


"We felt the possibilities were unlimited then," Candidate Dean said in an interview in 2004. "We were making such enormous progress. It resonates with a lot of people my age. People my age really felt that way!"


Well, no, that's not necessarily true. I certainly did not. What is true is that many people Dean's age, who were also left-wingers, felt that way, though many others certainly didn't – they may have been too stoned to know the difference. They only think they did now out of nostalgia. Oh, wasn’t Woodstock wonderful? Remember all the hoopla last summer, on the 40th anniversary of that spectacle?


Why is it that “progressive” Baby Boomers talk as if they come from a magical wonderful place where everybody agreed on everything? In 1969, the year Mr. Dean turned 21 and I turned 22, the country was deeply divided over Vietnam and Civil Rights. Cities had been torn apart by race riots, and campuses were hothouses of rage and dissent. In 1968, Alabama Gov. George Wallace had run on a pro-segregation ticket. President Lyndon Johnson had chosen not to run for re-election because the country was so divided over his presidency and “his war.” This was hardly the age of hand-holding and Kumbaya.


If progressives believe that it's such a wonderful thing to live in a united nation, why aren't they more nostalgic for the 1950s? Perhaps it could be that, if the American consensus isn't a left-wing consensus, then, well, to hell with consensus!


So, even today’s progressive historians mock and deride the 1950s as if the American soul had been locked away in Sing Sing for the entire decade. Progressive politicians, like Governor Dean, talk about the 1960s as a time of great unity, because, in their book, "unity" means the ascendance of left-wing issues and policies. It’s that simple.


Which brings us back to this mantra of "bringing America together." Americans are divided because they disagree with each other. That is the American constant, and it should not bother us in the least. Yes, I'd prefer that we were divided about different things, but that's because I'd prefer to win the current arguments separating the two sides of the culture war. Should one believe, however, that unity is the highest political value, then we all need to ask ourselves the following:


Would we rather have national agreement on positions we fundamentally oppose, or would we rather have divisiveness with a chance for victory another day? An honest answer would compel us to stop complaining about America being divided.


Now the latest is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s contention that all the bickering we do here in the USA over domestic policy is hurting our implementation of foreign policy.


"People don't understand the way our system operates. They just don't get it. And their view is – it does color whether the United States is in a position ... going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world," Mrs. Clinton said.


Nonsense, total nonsense. Many countries, such as my native Cuba, would love to have the lack of unity we enjoy here in the USA. That means they’d be enjoying the freedoms we take for granted.


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