Friday, January 26, 2007

W, the Black Knight, and Bridging the Divide

I've been listening all week to NPR "Bridging the Divide" theme that has run as a leitmotif throughout all their news/commentary programming and something about it has been grating. Then it hit me when listening to Cokie Roberts' (to speak of grating) contribution about how Washington and Congress were so much different when she was a young child of power and privilege. The partisanship was there, but there was a deep sense of camaraderie after sessions. She blamed it on the need to attract money, she blamed it on Congressmen who don't really move to DC, she blamed it on gerrymandered safe districts. But there were two words that she didn't mention at all -- Gingerich and Rove -- and that has been the thing that has really been most annoying about this discussion, there is an elephant in the room -- and it IS an elephant.

There's a reason this country is divided like it is. It wasn't an accident and it didn't just happen. It has been an intentional driving apart of this nation for the political gain of the Republican Party. Congress was intentionally poisoned by Newt Gingerich as a strategic move to grab power and because of people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and Pat Robertson, the general population has been bifurcated as well. This plan has been openly in effect for twenty years now. The idea is simple. If you eliminate the middle and completely split the country, the Republicans believed that their half would turn out in bigger numbers on election day. If you capture the Evangelical and Conservative Catholic churches, you could increase the number of non-voting voters in the GOP's column whereas those who are more natural constituents for the Democratic Party are much less likely to turn out. We are divided for cynical self-interested reasons.

Don't get me wrong, this is a bad thing and needs to be fixed. But why is it now that we suddenly are asking about reconciliation?

Isn't it strange that this conversation never happened when we were actually in the process of being divided? When Republicans had succeeded in undermining the unity of this nation -- even after it had been brought back together in the face of tragedy -- their unrelenting hunger for power went unchallenged by the media. Where were the calls for reconciliation after the 2000 election? the 2004 election? Why is it only after those who caused the damage were unequivocally rebuked, only after they are swept out of power in the Congress, and now that Bush makes a lame duck look like Gene Kelly that we are being asked to compromise and let them back to the table so they can have joint custody of the child they abused?

It is amazing to look back just a few years ago. Fear of fascism was real. The right to free speech was being curtailed. Brett Bursey was arrested for holding a political sign unfavorable to the President and there were several arrests and ejections from places like shopping malls for simply wearing t-shirts with anti-war, pro-civil liberties, or anti-Bush slogans. Enemies of the administration were having their careers ruined. Colleagues of mine at the University of Texas spoke of rampant fears around their jobs if they spoke publicly against the war or the administration. I have been conducting oral history interviews with the widows and children of philosophers who fled Nazism from Germany and Austria before and during the Second World War, I sat with someone who watched with his own eyes the infamous book burning in Berlin. Someone whose elderly and ailing Jewish father put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger because he was too old to flee and wasn't going to wait for the Nazis. Someone who was taken as a prisoner of war. Every single one of them, after the interview, after the tape recorder was off, wanted to talk politics and all of them remarked on how eerie the scene was, how much it reminded them of what they had seen before. This is not hyperbole.

The only thing that saved us was the Republicans' complete incompetence. The fact that every single thing they said about Iraq, from the existence of weapons of mass destruction to our being treated as liberators to this not being a civil war, turned out to be false. Enron, Terri Schaivo, Intelligent Design, budget deficits, corruption, lobbyists run amok, Katrina,...domino after domino of incompetence fell until any shred of credibility had been completely stripped.

So they lost power. Yesterday at lunch, Confused, Maybe Not coined a phrase that perfectly captured the lack of a State of the Union Address -- what we saw was a bully without a pulpit. The schoolyard bully no longer has the power to take our milk money and now, instead of being held to account for all the bully has done, now we are supposed to forgive and forget. Now we are supposed to have a big group hug with him and his gangster friends and reconcile. The vapid conversations on NPR this week have reminded me of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the Black Knight is left by his bridge with nothing but bloody stumps where his extremities were, calling out to his foe who is riding off, "Alright, it's a draw."