The Dis-United States of America?

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“An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.”
Thomas Jefferson

I would like to think that bipartisanship can work in the United States. JFK once wrote, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.” In the wake of the incredibly acrimonious election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson claimed, “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”
These are high-minded expressions of reason that highlight the importance of seeing what links us Americans more than what separates us. Jefferson explained it thusly: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” We can agree to disagree, and then move on to work together do the people’s business in government.
But more often nowadays what I see is raw anger in irrational emotion ruling people’s political outlook. Americans do not so much think and reason out their own ideas about politics as feel anger and hostility towards their political opponents.
For example,

  • On the Right with the Neocons on Fox News and Realpolitics – they have this view that the “media elite” is assassinating them, etc. Hate liberals. In their own media cave they have this view of the world and will stick to it even if the real world is dissimilar. Bush lands on an aircraft carrier and operations over. Iraq is full of dead enders. “Spin” the message, and all will be well! “America is moving towards a better place.” In what world do you live? “Democracy moving forward in the Middle East.” Just because it is so in Neoconservative think tanks in the Beltway culture does not make it so in real life. “Evidence to the contrary is media lies.” The Neocons as music directors who are tone deaf —

    — Arrogant. Complacent. Calculating. Dimwitted. “C students” who go to business school.

  • Then on the Left , there is enormous personal hostility towards President Bush. A cowboy. A mediocre student. An ex-oil man. A Christian. Texas. He pushes all their buttons. I think many of them would like to see America’s efforts in the Middle East fail simply to see Bush fail: they hate the man so much they have trouble seeing the issues that are deeper than any one man. Many are the professional America haters – its people are too religious, too greedy, too irresponsive to the environment, too “insensitive,” too loud, etc. America is the source of evil in the world. We now live in a police state, brought to us by the evil Conservatives. “I despair for American democracy and plan to move to Canada or Europe!” (Maybe they should.) —

    — Soft. Naïve. Unrealistic. Fuzzy-headed. “A students” who become sociology professors.

And I am not immune to this ugly trend.
For example, I took more delight at watching California Democrats squeal in pain and anguish in 2003 when Gray Davis was recalled from office than I took in satisfaction in seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger win his job. I don’t much like California Republicans, but my dislike for California Democrats is much more animating and enlivening. I spent most of the election evening of October 7, 2003 on the Internet lurking silently in the background of Bay Area (home of California lefties) chatrooms and blogs and watched Democrats squeal in pain and horror. (This gave me – I am ashamed to say – deep pleasure!) I enjoyed watching the Democrats lose in 2004 more than I enjoyed watching George Bush win. In short, I found more fulfillment in watching my enemies be scattered to the winds than in viewing my allies triumph on the field. I recognize this as unhealthy both for myself and my country.
All around America I see friends, family, and coworkers whose differing political opinions make it so they can hardly talk to one another. Or they can talk about anything but politics – leading to tense silence, awkward avoidances, and hypocritical smiles. Nobody says what they really think, and God help it if they do! Witness the shouting match at the family dinner table over the War in Iraq that had been long and coming, the more frightful for its long buildup.
What about the future? Where might we go from here?
There is not a whole lot of anybody who inspires much – and those I do like and respect, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Warner, John McCain, Barack Obama, seem to be the ones that cannot win. Too independent. Too old. Too inexperienced. Not palatable enough to the “Party base” (ie. Party extremists).
Still, when I look at politics – and especially foreign affairs – I feel no affinity to follow anybody’s party line. The problems are huge and will not substantially change if one political party vacates the White House and the other enters it. An Islamist terrorist in Cairo or London would kill a Democratic American tourist in Egypt or Great Britain as quickly as he would kill a Republican one. North Korea has been our blood enemy since 1950, and Iran has hated our guts since 1979. The beast which is the health care or housing crisis will not change its spots because Democrats control Congress instead of Republicans. The world is not that simple, and neither would be any solutions.
Is John Kerry and George Bush really the best we can do as leader for the United States of America? The spirit of Howard Dean and Rick Santorum the best the Democratic and Republican Parties have to offer? Will Hillary Clinton drag more of the late nineties Bill Clinton-muck back into politics? Is that not moving backwards rather than forward? The Bill and Hillary show replayed?
Will the election of 2008 prove enervating or re-invigorating to America?
Will this trend continue where one’s political opponents are not mistaken or wrong but instead are nothing less than the embodiment of evil, harbingers of doom, and enemies of democracy?
Who will be big enough to lead the ENTIRE country? Who might have that clarity of vision AND the soft political touch to lead a fractious people forward?
Whoever that person is, America needs you.


“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.”
John Kennedy


  • castillo

    Mr. Geib,
    I must agree that two illogical extremes won’t solve the answer, yet everyone seems to be so tied to Black or White that no one seems to see the gray. Parties seem to be more concerned with has more seats in the house then the issues that they actually must face. Maybe that’s just me.
    – Alex “Flavor” Castillo

  • Sergio

    I definitely agree.
    The Left hates Bush more than they love democracy and human rights. This was displayed in 2003 before the War in Iraq with their “No blood for oil” chants. Not one protester that I remember called for Saddam Hussein to step down. More recently, a 14-year-old student was vigorously questioned by the Secret Service after posting “Kill Bush” on her Myspace website, yet she says she is a “very peaceful person.” It seems that “peaceniks” are more interested in surrendering to dictators in the name of “nonviolence.” Yes, it’s true that Gandhi and Martin Luther King solved their solutions nonviolently, but at least they let their visions be known. What about today? Who is the Left standing up for? What is their alternative vision for the U.S. and the world if not for Bush or Hussein? I’m not saying that Bush is the solution (far from it), but what would they have done?
    Unfortunately, the Right appears to be more dimwitted each and every day. Mark Foley and Rev. Ted Haggard, both who are involved in sex scandals right now. Donald Rumsfeld, who is now called by Army Generals to resign, yet the White House is looking the other way. Hurricane Katrina. Rush Limbaugh ridiculing Michael J. Fox’s involuntary movements, yet Limbaugh really thought that Fox was “faking it”. A $250 billion deficit, yet they call themselves “fiscal conservatives.”
    Bill O’Reilly, in his appearance on “Oprah”, said that too many Americans are afraid of speaking out on what they really believe in because they fear of offending someone. So true! Very true! Christianity is now associated with bigotry thanks to the likes of Pat Robertson, Randall Terry, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and other right-wing “personalities” who use religion and politics to demonize people who make their own private decisions that do not fit their view of morality (abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, Terri Schiavo, evolution, Harry Potter, homosexuality, “violent/pornographic/profane” media, etc). Race politics are also taboo because racial minorities, particularly blacks and Hispanics, will label you racist if you disagree, or even challenge them, on affirmative action, illegal immigration, and bilingual education; people often throw the word “racist” out, yet they keep on saying “I’m just saying” to justify their claims (don’t they know that such words carry out dire consequences?) Having said all this, I think Bill O’Reilly is oversimplifying political etiquette in America; you simply cannot bring up these issues without breaking the ice with other people first. If you don’t break the ice, you are simply asking for trouble. Politics has become way too personal to the point that friends often end up in shouting matches when all the anger could’ve been “avoided.”
    Today, the California School Employees Association, a non-teacher union, called my mom, a teacher’s aide, this morning to see if they can count on her to vote for Phil Angelides. She said, yes, and she really means it. Now, what would the reaction from the CSEA be if she said that she would vote for Arnold instead?
    Ok, I now realize that I’m going off on a rant here. But I’m glad I’m not alone in saying so. It’s a shame that it is a lot safer expressing these kind of thoughts on the Internet, rather than face-to-face.

  • Stephen

    Commenting on Sergio’s post
    Sergio, you said:
    “Unfortunately, the Right appears to be more dimwitted each and every day. Mark Foley and Rev. Ted Haggard, both who are involved in sex scandals right now. Donald Rumsfeld, who is now called by Army Generals to resign, yet the White House is looking the other way. Hurricane Katrina. Rush Limbaugh ridiculing Michael J. Fox’s involuntary movements, yet Limbaugh really thought that Fox was “faking it”. A $250 billion deficit, yet they call themselves ‘fiscal conservatives.”
    Your post and especially this paragraph accurately portrays the general and popular understanding of how the “right” and the Bush administration has performed.
    1) You are going to characterize the entire “right” dimwitted?
    2) Foley and Haggard represent something bigger than their own personal disgrace?
    3) “Army Generals” called for Rumsfeld resignation? How many such calls out of the 800 or so living active duty and retired Generals? If “the Generals” disapproved of Rumsfeld, would not some of them have resigned? Did any on active duty resign?
    4) The White House looking the other way? Didn’t Bush look right into the camera and state Rumsfeld’s value to the administration at least once a month for the past 3 years?
    5) Hurricane Katrina? How is this the fault of the dimwitted “Right?” Do you understand the scale of this disaster? Do you have at hand the comparative data regarding the response rate and the material and manpower provision of FEMA and other federal agencies, vis-à-vis such responses during prior disasters? In other words, compared to what prior event did the federal government respond poorly during Katrina?
    6) Were you listening to Rush Limbaugh that day when he supposedly claimed that Fox was “faking it?” Did you download the video segment from Limbaugh’s website, or did you watch the sped-up version presented with an out of sync audio on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC? Can you quote the exact words Limbaugh spoke as he explained that he had never witness Fox in that condition, and suspected that he had altered his medication? Do you know, because you were listening at that moment, the tone of Limbaugh’s voice? Mocking or astonished? Which was it?
    I point all this out because your post seems to have a centralist if not actually a Republican point of view, and yet on all the specifically Republican issues you cite, you demonstrate to me that you are misinformed.
    Why is this?
    Here is a clue. Think back. During the last 6 weeks, during the run up to this election, the entire country presented an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq, anti-Rumsfeld, crisis, doomsday, disaster, debacle and shambles mindset. This was caused by and amplified by and universally projected by every news broadcast, every interview, every comedian’s skit, every newspaper and news magazine.
    Every single statement from Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Paula Zahn, Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, Charles Gibson, Keith Olbermann, Lou Dobbs, Tim Russert, Bill O’reilly, Bob Schieffer, Chris Wallace, Wolf Blitzer, Brian Williams, et. al. cast a negative shadow over the Bush administration and Republicans in general whether the topic was the war in Iraq, congressional and corporate scandals, the weather, the lack of credible intelligence information, Iran’s quest for a nuclear warhead, China’s sabotage of the 6 party talks with North Korea – you name it. The topic of the day and every news-cycle was bracketed in dismal concern and laced with hints at the administration’s inadequacy so as to cast a shadow on all those Republicans up for election.
    This can be illustrated by the 3 year-long Valery Plame debacle. There is not one American in one thousand that knows that Fitzgerald’s investigation was a total fraud. And when the fraud was finally exposed, the story instantly disappeared, leaving all those Americans continuing to think that Karl Rove, VP Cheney and the White House had been tainted by an immoral vendetta that actually never happened at all.
    All of the above named news readers were well aware that the fraud had been exposed, and due to the timing of the revelation – all to near the November elections – they were complicit in letting the story slide off into the archives of political history. Not one of them ever mentioned it. Not once.
    This is what has happened to our country.
    Richard, you are exactly right. We are a “Dis-United States.” But the dis-union is not between left and right, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.
    Our country is split in two this way. A very large majority of Americans spend their days working with “Things,” including people (website design, sales and marketing, programming, building and contracting. They are engineers, lawyers, accountants, finance managers, travel agents, hosts, etc., etc.). A small minority of Americans work with “Words.” (professors, journalists, publishers, authors, content creators, consultants, commentators, think-tank fellows, etc., etc.).
    The changing technology of how the work of these wordsmiths is presented to the rest of us has given them an overwhelming advantage when it comes to shaping “what we all know to be true.” The fact of this changing technology explains why the division has been sudden, bewildering and mischaracterized. Moreover, these wordsmiths are possessed by what Thomas Sowell calls “The Vision of the Anointed.” So, not only do they have that technological advantage, they also have a compelling mission to use that technology to determine the course of our whole society. Certainly, there are wordsmiths that do not possess the vision, but they are a tiny minority within this larger minority. Most of these wordsmiths, by the nature of their educational process – so entirely different from that of the workers with things – have become possessed with the Vision.
    These are dangerous times, too dangerous to have found ourselves lost and adrift and struggling to redefine our national identity.

  • Ron Schwartz

    It seems to me that there are two basic problems with the approach to politics in the United States today. These points apply equally to both parties.
    The first is the unspoken assumption that the person on the other side of the red/blue divide is an irrational fool who wants to destroy America. This assumption, by itself, destoys any possibility of rational discussion of the issues which could lead, if not to concensus, at least to understanding where the other guy is coming from.
    If we are to have any discussion (which is not taking place today) we must presume (and it is difficult, sometimes!) that the other person is a patriot with a rational basis for his views, and we must hold to this presumption.
    The second point is that political discourse in this country has been reduced to the lowest common denominator: that is, simply shouting at the other side. This will not do. In its place, we must explain, rationally, why we disagree. This is the only way communication can take place. And communication is a predicate to any kind of agreement or concensus.

  • Lucas

    Mr. Geib, the way I see it is that it is not the increase in partisanship that divides our country into argumentation and inaction. As a liberal frustrated with the ineffective Democratic Party, it often seems to me that politicians are too quick to give up their values and convictions for the sake of compromise. After all, why did Kerry and Gore lose to Bush? They were boring. Flip-floppers. Weak in defense of their own beliefs. It seems to be the petty, bickering and arrogant partisan that drives this country and makes the decisions, not the magnanimous compromiser with that “soft political touch”.
    Instead, what I see as the problem with our democracy is the increasing removal of the parties from the people. Political parties are driven by lobbyists, donors, and political consultants. The lethargy of the American public when it comes to government makes us less informed and thus more easily swayed. Advertising and campaigning wins elections. Baby-kissing and all that good stuff. It seems so vitally important that a presidential candidate attend a NASCAR rally or go hunting to bolster their image, rather than come up with a plan for real change. If worst comes to worst, a barrage of attack ads involving some irrelevant scandal will do the trick. It is all meticulously planned and lavishly funded. But when it comes time for policy decision, our leaders have their eyes on Washington, not America. The two-party system and the political machine takes on a life of its own. Throw money at the voters in the form of advertising to keep them satisfied. The real people they have to worry about are the people that fund their campaigns. Without money, there is no campaign, and thus no democracy. Our parties are prodded along by the invisible hand of the market, no longer worrying about creating solutions for America, but creating solutions for their donors and lobbyists.
    Unfortunately, lobbies, corporate donors, factions, think tanks, political strategists, and special interest groups are more cohesive, more efficient, and more wealthy than the American public. They have money, purpose, and connections, and therefore far more influence than the confused, disunited, and apathetic everyday voters.
    To me, there is nothing wrong with partisanship, as long as the parties reflect the people. But I’m not exactly holding my breath.