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December 20, 2010

Defining the Division

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Asked recently about the state of our Republic, the challenge wasn’t describing the problem, the really hard part was trying to diagnose a prescription for change.


Republicans, in the eyes of Democrats, are evil villains plotting with the wealthiest among us to pillage the public trough for their own enrichment. Democrats, conversely, are seen by Republicans as creating an ever-growing demand for people to actually feed at that same public trough.


Our two major parties are left to define the world politically for the rest of us, even if we find the definitions overly simplistic and inaccurate. The political parties are aided and abetted by media outlets, some sympathetic to the GOP, most falling in with the Democratic Party line.


So, reasonable people are left to choose from the least misrepresentative of those definitions. Hell of a way to run a railroad, huh?


The better course of action is to flatly reject this foolishness of allowing someone else to define our own politicians and politic priorities.


Pick any two leaders from each party. We’ll start with President Barack Obama, standard-bearer of the Democrats, and Sarah Palin, the most notable current national Republican political personality.


President Obama ran a non-traditional campaign, promising a big agenda, a cooperative spirit and the restoration of hope in the American lexicon. Has he delivered?


He certainly has when it comes to the big agenda deal! Healthcare reform, banking reform, investment reform, and direct government intervention in a wide variety of traditionally private sector interests. As far as the cooperative spirit, well, the record comes up seriously lacking.


For the first year and a half, President Obama treated Republicans in the House and Senate as an annoying afterthought, brushing away their ideas and inquiries like southern aristocrats swat away mosquitoes. He had the luxury; his party held all the political cards.


He made Republicans the party of NO, not because they always said no, but because they weren’t inclined to say YES nearly enough. He believed this strategy would work throughout his term, and might even lead comfortably to a second term.


The same is true with the whole hope thing. Reading the “right track, wrong track” national polls, one might conclude that the only actual hope he’s restored is the hope that he limits his attempts at any more sweeping federal policy changes.


He is propped up by the notion that he won an historic electoral victory. At the core of his success was the news media’s thirst for an articulate and intellectual candidate, an ethereal presence with a wonkish mind. That he just happened to be a minority was cake icing.


A tea bag would be his undoing.


At the other end of the political spectrum, we have Mrs. Palin. Undoubtedly photogenic, Sarah Palin is the pride of Wasilla, Alaska. Having served two successful terms as the mayor of a town smaller than some Frederick County towns, Ms. Palin rode a reputation as a watchdog over energy companies into the governor’s office in her beloved Alaska.


Her political future seemed limited to serving Alaskans, either in the state capitol or possibly the U.S. Congress. Then Sen. John McCain (R., AZ) reached up into the frozen tundra to make Governor Palin his presidential running mate in the 2008 campaign.


The big question at the time was WHY? She didn’t appear to have had time in public office to assemble an array of civic accomplishments to tout, her knowledge of national and world policy issues seemed light, and when compared to other leading Republicans, she just didn’t seem to possess the gravitas associated with people chosen for that office. Not to mention the fact that she had just been elected governor.


A few weeks on the campaign trail proved the answer. She was immensely popular with “flyover” America, the heartland between the liberal coasts. Everywhere that Sarah went, the crowds were sure to go.


It didn’t matter that she seemed confused and inarticulate with national news anchors and reporters. Her supporters blamed that on “gotcha journalism,” and assumed that she was just being set up whenever she sat for a Q&A.


The problem was that she was confused, and she was inarticulate. Her knowledge of world affairs wasn’t just lacking compared to other people Senator McCain could have chosen, it was nowhere to be found.


The fact is that Sarah Palin reminds many people of Ronald Reagan. Like the Great Communicator, Governor Palin is charming, funny, enthusiastic and able to reconnect people to a better time and place in America’s great history and in their own lives.


A tea bag might just be her ticket to a national political identity.


Are either one of these two exclusively pursuing policies in the best interests of Americans? Do either one of them have all of the tools necessary to understand what our nation needs – and the skills to deliver it?


“Of course not” would be the Understatement of the Year award winner.


To hear it told by the swarms of Democrat and Republican officeholders and media mouthpieces, that is the only conclusion one could possibly reach.


The American electorate has a funny way of keeping the political debate focused, thanks to the brilliance of the Founders. A politically united federal executive and legislative branch suggests a government that will tilt too far right or left from the interests of its people; and every two years, when given the chance, those same people tend to correct those shifts.


The 2010 elections were a case in point. The House of Representatives was yanked out of the hands of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., CA) and handed over to the Republicans and Rep. Jon Boehner (R., OH).


Speaker Pelosi has been a traditional progressive Democrat, advocating for the poor, minorities, and the expansion of social programs. Speaker-to-be Boehner is a traditional conservative, a free market, lower tax and deregulation advocate.


It appears that Americans understood the best way to limit the reach of the government envisioned by President Obama was through the check and balance of a divided Congress. Now, the president will be forced to reach out to the other party, and that suggests a level of compromise that might actually get things done.


Don’t get too excited, though. Remember those who run the definition business. It will be in their interests to make you believe that compromise is poison, and that a deadlock can be blamed on the other guys just in time for the 2012 presidential election.


President Obama will undoubtedly tilt toward the center. His base will fight him, just as they did when former President Bill Clinton unveiled his now-famous triangulation strategy. The Republicans will hear from tea party activists to avoid compromise, citing the all-or-nothing mantra in order to win back the White House in 2012.


The two major political parties and their high profile spokespeople will be out in force, doing all they can to protect the status quo. Billions will be spent, both above and below the table of public scrutiny. Talk radio, cable news, and print media will be willing co-conspirators for the divide-and-conquer messaging effort.


At the end of the day, the only principal motivating interest for a political party – either one – is the continuation of that party. The people who raise the money and produce the messages do so out of an obsessive compulsion to gain more power and raise more money.


Where in all of that do we find the best interests of the American people? Short answer: we don’t.


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