Why the Bush Administration Deserves Defeat II - Polarizing America

As president of the United States, George W. Bush governs over a starkly divided nation. More people voted against him than for him in the 2000 election. George Bush continues to strongly favour the side that elected him into office, rather than lead the way in trying to bridge the widening gap across the political centre and govern for all Americans, as is his responsibility. Those that oppose his administration have been attacked and ridiculed. As a result, the 2004 election promises to be the most divisive since the Civil War.


Election Riot

Previous Reason: Fiscal Mismanagement.

The 2000 presidential election may or may not have been stolen, but it was a statistical tie. For every American who voted in favour of Bush's policies of hefty tax cuts, faith based initiatives and more, there was an American who voted against. But are there two Americas here, Democrat and Republican, and never the twain shall meet?

Polls suggest that the majority of Americans favour policies that are on the centre-right of the Democrats and on the centre-left of the Republicans. Should people be more personally responsible for their actions? Well, of course. Is there a need to protect government services (especially police and fire services in the aftermath of September 11)? Absolutely. Are you in favour of lower taxes? Yup. Should more Americans have access to adequate health care and should our schools do a better job of educating the young? Most certainly. Are you in favour of balancing the budget and not compromising our children's future? Yes.

In other words, most Americans, unsurprisingly, are centrist, but you wouldn't know that from all the bickering that goes on in the news and on the campaign trail. Whereas Canada has a party which straddles the centre and takes in ideas from its left and right flanks, the centre in America is a tall, barbed-wire fence across which the nation's two political parties play tug-of-war. The Rush Limbaughs, the Michael Moores, the Ann Coulters and the Al Frankens see nothing good on the other side, and try to pull the centre towards them in order to guide the country towards their principles. Without a single party that can speak to the whole centre, there is no reason for the Limbaughs and the Moores to accommodate the centre, so they train their guns on each other, "coarsening the political discourse" as Bill O'Reilly himself said, and deafening the average America who just wants things to get done in this country.

Some people say the statistical tie of the 2000 presidential election highlighted deep divisions in America, but the reality is that the centrist majority of the nation is so disgusted with the loudmouth extremes that they tried to vote for neither. More than half of Americans didn't vote at all in what was the most divisive election since the American Civil War. In the weeks following the election, George Bush at least acknowledged that Americans were calling upon him to bridge the gap across the centre chasm. He touted a new era of bipartisanship. There was talk of appointing Democrats to his cabinet. He appointed one: Norman Mineta as Secretary of Transportation.

High on the list of not playing across the centre is his appointment of John Ashcroft as Attourney General. On this, Jerry Falwell is reported to have said "The journey from Reno to Ashcroft is a journey from utter darkness to brilliant light," a light that has since gone on to reduce civil liberties to such a degree that libertarian conservatives are uniting with liberals in their dislike of the man.

After appointing "thoroughbred conservatives" to key cabinet positions, Bush followed through on his massive tax cuts, going beyond what he promised, despite the fact that more than half of the electorate voted against his policy. On the other side of the ledger, he has announced funding for education ("No Child Left Behind") to considerable acclaim, but then quietly failed to deliver the money. His bipartisanship has been a show; it is the more conservative side of his agenda that he has consistently acted upon; measures intended to impress moderates have been only half-heartedly pursued. Just a month after George Bush's messy election victory, analysts were saying that Bush was eschewing bipartisanship and governing as if he had a strong mandate, effectively saying that the half of the electorate who voted against him can just rot.

For George W. Bush and his ardent social conservatives, this behaviour is at least consistent with a sense of moral superiority. Bush has spoken often of his faith in God (commendable) and his belief that he is acting on God's will (not). Why should anybody compromise if they feel that God is on their side? Clearly God is not on the other side, so all the folks disagreeing with me are fools or rogues who should not be listened to. Although Democrats themselves did not make it easy for Bush to appoint more than token Democrats to cabinet, Bush's own unwillingness to compromise bears the brunt of the responsibility for the failure of bipartisanship in January 2001, and the second bout of bipartisanship at the end of 2001.

There may be winners or losers in government, and heated political debate may be common, but to casually dismiss half of the American electorate as fools or rogues is neither fair nor accurate. I remind Republicans of how they might have felt in 1997, just after Bill Clinton was re-elected president. Is it right to completely dismiss the real concerns and considerations of the other side just because the constitution granted you full power? The alienation that Democrats are feeling right now is more acute and more real because in 1997, all the branches of government weren't wholly tilted towards Republicans.

As president of the United States, it is George Bush's responsibility to listen to all sides, make compromises and govern for the whole of the United States. That should be the responsibility of every politician. If there is a single unhappy voter out there, you do not dismiss them as a crook. Token Democrats in cabinet aren't going to mask the fact that half of the American public is being ignored by this presidency. And with Bush's recent support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, the Bush Administration's participation in the polarization of America reaches even higher levels. A complicated and messy political process has been initiated so that Bush can curry favour from one group of Americans who think that another group of Americans is irredeemably evil. He has pursued reelection by explicitly attacking the rights and freedoms of a particular group of individuals. All we need now is less subtlety and a congressional committee to weed out these individuals, and we're back in the McCarthy era.

Liberals such as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo haven't helped raise the discourse by getting as down and dirty as various and sundry conservative attack dogs, but responsibility for the "coarsening of American discourse" lies more with the Bush Administration than with the Democrats. Republicans control all three levels of the government, after all. They have controlled most of the government for ten years running. They are the ones who have the ability to rise above the mudslinging frey and actually make such a move meaningful. Whether they like it or not, they are not a persecuted minority trembling under a liberal onslaught. It is possible for Republicans to meet Democrats halfway (witness the work that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been doing as California's governor), but Bush has shown little interest in doing so.

Politics is a basic requirement of being human. It exists because in a gathering of individuals contemplating a scarce resource, it is natural for individuals to disagree on what the scarce resources should be used for, and how it should be used. The only way for society to make a decision between squabbling individuals is through either compromise, or war. Compromise is more productive. Democratic evolution since the middle ages has demanded that all individual opinions be recognized and celebrated, and though Democrats and Republicans are going to have to live with the fact that they won't get everything they want out of the political process, it would be wrong for either to believe that they hold a monopoly on the right way to think. Nobody said it was easy to compromise, but giving up on the attempt is an affront to the valid political opinions of the rest of the electorate -- in this case, the 51% who voted against Bush, and the 50% who chose not to vote at all.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the Democrats can do a better job of listening and compromising. However, as the Bush Administration has tilted the American government so far to the right, the Democrats now are coming across as the party which stands closer to the centre. A move towards them is a move that reflects the views of more Americans.

Besides, I'm only talking about the presidential race, here. Even if the presidency changes from Republican to Democrat, there is no guarantee the Senate and the House will do the same thing.


Further Reading

Next reason: Misdirection of the War on Terror


Birthday Announcement

Happy birthday to Erin, who turns 32 just eleven days after I did the same. Shows you how close we are. :-)

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