Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Divided We Fall

Today Barack Hussein Obama, a secret Muslim from Kenya, began his plan of indoctrinating American children in the tenets of radical socialism and laid the groundwork for a Hitler Youth-like mobilization of our kids.

That would be a funny sentence, if only you couldn't hear pretty much the same thing being said in seriousness by rather a lot of my fellow Americans. I just want to pause for a moment and ask something.

What the hell? Seriously, what the hell has happened to people? The President of the United States wants to speak to school children about the value of education and hard work. How can this be controversial? He is our chief of state. He speaks for our country. Whether you agree with him on the issues or not, whether you even like him or not, he deserves respect and polite deference. It is, or used to be, the American Way.

Back in the 1950s there was a children's TV show called The Small Fry Club. Every weekday host Big Brother Bob Emery would lead kids in a toast (with milk) to President Eisenhower. Once upon a time our youth were taught about courtesy, respect, and good citizenship. In time this practice declined. With it, I fear, so has America.

Back in 1988 President Reagan spoke to a group of school children. His talk touched on such issues as free enterprise, open markets, and low taxes. The speech was broadcast to schools around the country on three different days. There were no protests, there was no controversy. The leader of the free world wanted to speak to children. It was only right and proper that he do so.

Things stared to go sour back in 1991. Then President George H.W. Bush spoke to America's kids urging them to stay in school, stay off drugs, and don't become hoodlums or whatnot. America, on the whole, thought nothing of it, naturally enough. But a few political leaders of the opposition criticized him for his “political advertisement.”

As the 90s wore on things got worse. The right absolutely hated Bill Clinton. They threw every bit of mud they could scrape up at him. It was nasty. But I didn't think that American civility was dead. In my naivety I thought this had more to do with Clinton being the type of man that he was than any serious change in the “American Way.” Clinton, after all, played hardball politics harder than most and made a lot of mortal enemies. Since he was a flawed human being with a penchant for lying and obfuscation, he became a pretty easy target and a polarizing figure. I thought that once he left office things might revert to normal.

Silly me. During the Bush Administration the concept of civility and polite deference to the president died an altogether ugly death. Bush was a monkey, Bush was a Hitler, Bush was evil, stupid, venal, traitorous, and America's greatest enemy. He was either behind the 9/11 attacks or knew about them in advance and did nothing to stop them. In a few cases anti-Bush hysteria reached levels of criminality. Bush campaign headquarters were vandalized. People were intimidated. Tolerance for people with different points of view was no longer a virtue. It was a weakness.

But Bush too was a polarizing figure. Perhaps, I thought, when he passed from the scene things would calm down. Obama came into office as an inspiring figure, the best communicator to hold the job in twenty years. The problems we face together are serious. American political debate has always been passionate, vigorous, and acrimonious, but now, I thought, the madness can come to an end.

And again, silly me. Anti-Bush fervor sowed the wind. Now we reap the whirlwind. Those who said that the president stole the election have been replaced by those who say that the president is not a citizen. Those who said that the president allowed 9/11 have been replaced by those who say that the president has a secret pro-Islamist agenda. Those who said that the president was a fascist have been replaced with those who say that the president is a socialist. And those who said that the president is a new Hitler have been replaced by those who say that the president is a new Hitler.

It is the ultimate in hardball politics and demagoguery. Anything that the other side does is not simply wrong; it is evil, stupid, or both. American politics is now a zero-sum game. Anything that could be counted as a win for one side is a loss for the other. Can we compromise? Impossible. What is best for America? Insignificant.

Who says that it's time to back off from the precipice? Laura Bush, for one. What really got me thinking about this (and breaking my own rule about political blogging again; perhaps it is time that I admit that it is a silly rule) was this editorial in that radical lefty rag, Forbes:

Call me naïve, but I believe that Americans ought to accord their president a formal, ex officio respect, irrespective of party affiliation. He is, after all, the president of all of us (whether we like him or not), and it is unseemly that we should withhold civility from him on grounds of political disagreement. As things stand, no blow seems low enough, no criticism off limits, if the president happens to be from the other side. The pursuit of happiness has given way to the pursuit of picayune point-scoring.

I'm beginning to think that it is too late. Crazy days are here to stay. A demand for fairness, moderation, and civility does not seem to be building up in our country. I see a growing dissatisfaction with politics and a desire to reject both parties, but I see nothing to replace the current model. The leaders of the right will stop any serious medical insurance reform so the left can't score a win. The leaders of the left will demand prosecution of officials from the former regime (and guess what will happen when the balance of power shifts again?). Their followers scream at each other and occasionally come to blows. And nobody seems to care that they are fighting in a burning house.

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