divide: splintering nations, families even the GOP itself
By D.G. Bowman
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
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 it¹s 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 who¹s 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