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Bush's divide: splintering nations, families even the GOP itself
July 15, 2003
By D.G. Bowman

George W. Bush, when he was campaigning for the office that he eventually stole with help from Republican operatives, a biased media and a treacherously partisan Supreme Court, promised in that disarming twang of his that he would be a "uniter," not a "divider."

Two and a half years into a ruinous administration that has been breathtaking in its arrogance (and heartbreaking in its callousness), it's obvious that the tone-deaf Mr. Bush has been anything but a uniter. His stage-managed policies, pronouncements and strategies, enunciated and implemented with gimlet-eyed determination under a veneer of aw-shucks modesty and congeniality (not to mention illiteracy), have left the country the most divided its been since the Civil War, and, more recently, the Vietnam War era of 1965-75.

Bush Junior hasn't merely taken the national political division seen in the razor-thin (yet clearly in favor of Al Gore) election of 2000 and exacerbated it beyond all reason and civility. He and his foot soldiers in Congress (paging Tom DeLay!) have also made things personal, turning otherwise happy families against one another as the result of a take-no-prisoners partisanship that's unprecedented in its ugliness.

Consider my sister, a well-read, intelligent woman five years my junior. After much back-and-forth on the telephone and via e-mail, we have finally called a tenuous political truce. I suspect we agree that our ongoing love, respect and familial friendship are more important than arguing about a polarizing president whos either: a) a lying, AWOL silver-spoon frat boy (my view), or, b) a strong, visionary, moral leader (her view). Life's too short to let such a human lightning rod become between otherwise amiable siblings or any close-knit individuals, for that matter.

Partly because of Bush's black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us rhetoric, my sister and I have agreed to disagree, to steer clear of the Crawford cretin (my label; I doubt she has a nickname for him), to limit our discussions to the weather in L.A. (where she lives) and how her cats are doing. Politics has become this minefield on which we dare not tread. We skirt around the news as if it never happened. Another soldier killed in Iraq? Another pristine area opened to oil exploration? Another workplace protection scuttled?

Can't mention it unless I want to hear that iciness, that defensiveness, that evangelical, don't-bother-me-with-the-facts certitude so characteristic of Junior's more ardent supporters. So I let it slide.

The tragedy in this, of course, is that vital topics that rightfully should be brought to the attention of every ostensibly caring citizen the evidence that the administration lied about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, for instance, or that Bush's latest round of tax cuts will benefit nobody but the super-rich are often left unmentioned because of the disruption they might cause. We keep the peace, even as tongues tremble and jaws clench.

Bush and his disciples on the radical right have done more than simply fracture the nation; they have twisted the Republican Party beyond any semblance of the political enclave claimed by decent, honorable men from Abraham Lincoln to Lincoln Chafee. The proverbial "party of Lincoln," the progressive entity that agitated for emancipation, no longer exists, of course. For race-baiting, theocratic Republicans in the Trent Lott mold to keep spouting that reassuring phrase even as they work against many of the things Honest Abe (and Teddy Roosevelt, another fall-back GOP icon) stood for is the height of intellectual and moral dishonesty.

Can you imagine what Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose famous warning about the "military-industrial complex" has grievously come to pass, would think of today's Republicans? I am only surprised there haven't been more defections in the manner of Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who saw the hard right turn his party was taking and wisely became an independent. I suspect Bush's extreme policies will continue to alienate the more moderate elements within the GOP.

I'm hoping that my sister eventually comes around, that she'll see for herself the damage that Bush's policies are doing to Democrats and Republicans alike, to the folks in Peoria and the neighbors on her street. But I won't be helping her. She'll have to reach that epiphany on her own. I think we'd both like to remain loving siblings who'll carry the closeness of childhood well into our dotage. We'll avoid the poison well of politics. We'll continue to talk about the weather and other safe subjects.

But if the climate feels hotter than normal in Los Angeles (global warming), or if her job seems a little less secure (a collapsing economy), or if the library she loves to visit slashes its hours (budget shortfalls because of lower tax revenues), I won't mention the possible causes. I won't mention George W. Bush, the great "divider" of nations and families alike, the man who has helped transform his own venerable party into something grim and distasteful.

I'll keep the peace. Even at the risk of my sanity.

D.G. Bowman, a former longtime editor at The Seattle Times, is a writer and editor in Waikoloa, Hawaii. He detailed his gradual and empowering transformation from Republican to Democrat in the October 2001 issue of The Washington Monthly. Abraham Lincoln -- "who would probably sue the current GOP for the slanderous use of his name" -- remains his favorite American president.


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