Opinion

The Great Debate

It’s the (lack of) unity, stupid!

By Bill Schneider
November 5, 2012

What we expect to hear in the closing days of a campaign is a call to arms.  Instead, what we’re hearing from both sides is a call to disarm.

“I’m going to have to reach across the aisle and meet with good Democrats who love America just like you love America,” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a recent campaign rally in Virginia.  “And there are good Democrats like that.”

“In the end, we’re all in this together,” President Barack Obama said at a rally in Wisconsin.  “We rise and fall as one nation, one people.”

Why the sudden craving for unity?  Because that’s the issue that got Obama elected.  He became a star when he told the 2004 Democratic National Convention, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America.  There’s the United States of America.”

Unity is also the issue of the moment.  Unless the president and Congress can agree on some kind of budget deal in the next few months, the country will go over the fiscal cliff — huge tax increases and mandatory cuts in domestic and defense spending.  It’s unity or calamity.

Unity is also the promise Obama has failed most conspicuously to deliver.  The country is more divided today than it was four years ago. Obama is getting 91 percent support from Democrats and 7 percent from Republicans, according to Gallup — an 84-point difference.

That’s the largest partisan division we’ve ever seen.  Bigger than it was when President George W. Bush was running for reelection in 2004 (76 points).  Bigger than it was when President Bill Clinton got impeached (50 points).

You can get a pretty good argument going about why Obama failed.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), speaking at a Republican fundraising dinner earlier this year, said about Obama, “We have not seen such a divisive figure in modern American history as we have over the last three and a half years.”

It wasn’t Obama’s style that was divisive, however.  It was his policies.  Republicans saw the economic stimulus, health care reform, government bailouts and the mortgage rescue plan as acts of ideological aggression — an unprecedented expansion of big government, passed with almost no Republican support.

Democrats argue that congressional Republicans simply refused to do business with this president.  They regularly cite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2010 statement, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Actually, the last four presidents each promised to bring the country together.  They all failed.  President George H.W. Bush offered “a kinder, gentler” politics.  He lasted one term.  Clinton called himself “a New Democrat.”  He got impeached.  George W. Bush said he would be “a uniter, not a divider.”  He was anything but.  Obama got a Tea Party revolt one month after he took office and unveiled his program.

This country has been becoming more and more politically divided for the past 50 years.  The problem isn’t Obama.  The problem is the problem.

Last week’s storm gave Obama a priceless opportunity to reclaim his credentials as a uniter.  He received effusive praise from two Republican governors: Chris Christie of New Jersey (“I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state.”) and Bob McDonnell of Virginia (“It says a lot about the president and it makes me feel good to be an American that people have had the right focus.”).

It also brought Obama a valuable endorsement from New York’s independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Obama said, in an echo of his 2004 convention speech, “There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm — just fellow Americans.”

For his part, Romney stopped using the word “conservative” and started talking sympathetically about the working poor and single mothers.  He was also touting his record of working with Democratic legislators when he was governor of Massachusetts (“I knew from the very beginning, to get anything done I had to reach across the aisle”).

Of course, Democratic legislators in Massachusetts were willing to work with Governor Romney — something that can’t be said of Republicans in Congress and Obama.

And probably not of Democrats in Congress — if Romney becomes president.  Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week, “Mitt Romney’s fantasy that Senate Democrats will work with him to pass his ‘severely conservative’ agenda is laughable.”

Moreover, if Romney had such a successful record as governor, why isn’t he even competing in Massachusetts this year? If Romney wins, he will be the first president since James K. Polk in 1844 not to carry his home state.  Actually, Romney can claim four home states — Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California.  He may not carry any.

No one really knows which Romney would be president if he is elected — the “severely conservative” Republican primary candidate, or the moderate governor of Massachusetts who seems to have suddenly resurfaced at the end of the campaign.

So we have one candidate who promised to be a uniter and failed and another candidate who promises to be bipartisan but can’t be trusted.

Bloomberg summed up the voters’ dilemma perfectly when he said, “If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.”

PHOTO: After Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama found common ground with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a leading Mitt Romney surrogate, at Atlantic City International Airport on October 31, 2012.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

Comments
11 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Your answer to our political situation is “The problem is the problem”?

WOW!

It is so obvious! Why didn’t I see that before?

Silly me. I always thought the split had something to do with the rise of the neo-conservative movement in the US, beginning in the 1980s with Reagan who managed to open the Pandora’s Box of “wingnuts” we have running the country today.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive
 

funny, mainstream Republicans once used stimulus as a routine tool to stabilize employment. Interstate highways, St Lawrence Seaway under Eisenhower for example. Expansion of Social Security at the same time, with balanced budgets – because Republicans were moderate and anti-deficit, not above all anti-tax and anti-government as they are today.

Moderate Eisenhower Republicans would have worked with Obama on his jobs bill proposals after 2010, and accelerated the recovery.

The root cause of the problem over the last 4 years is the immoderation of the tea party GOP, and the January 2009 GOP Congressional pledge to make Obama a 1-term president. When Romney was governor of Mass., did the democratic legislature he loves to tlak about pledge to obstruct him at every step? No, they were more attuned to their oaths of office than the GOP House we now have in Washington.

The GOP line is all about division: 47%, givers or takers (most people are both at different ages), “job creators’ vs. lazy rest of us, “every vote for Obama is a racial vote” (mine and many friends’ are not), and so on.

A contributing factor may the be rise of tailor-made electronic media and opinion… these replaced the past wider availability of quality printed information, and a few TV or radio stations that were longer on facts and analysis than what people see today. We are not ‘on the same page’ about the news today unless we make a serious effort to separate real news from opinion and sound bites.

Posted by Decatur | Report as abusive
 

Bloomberg summed up the voters’ dilemma perfectly when he said, “If the 1994 or 2003 version of Mitt Romney were running for president, I may well have voted for him because, like so many other independents, I have found the past four years to be, in a word, disappointing.”

-so, in light of that disappointment, I saygive me more disappointment. Huh?

Posted by soulice | Report as abusive
 

Yes, America is hurting. Yes, the performance of America under President Barack Obama did not live up to expectations. But when you rate his performance ask yourself: What was the situation when he got into office? If he is re-elected will things not get better? I used to like Romney; in fact, the 1994 or 2008 Romney was a good choice. But that the election of the man Mitt Romney has now revealed himself to be is possible— that nearly half of your people will vote for him – a man who does not have the courage to stick to his convictions, a man who has no integrity. In his America – taxes will be cut for the rich and benefits will be cut for the poor, and immigrants who built America of whom he is a descendant will not be welcome.

Who can say Mitt Romney is a man of honour, a man of strength, a man of vision? A man who has the unmitigated gall to boldly lie to America – who has demonstrated that he will say anything, do anything just to get rid of Obama. Love him or hate him, the president has held to his governing ideals, love them or hate them.

Mitt Romney is a man who is the representative of a party that does not believe he would be a better president, just their president. A man who would rubber stamp whatever they put in front of him. A man that would be whatever they wanted him to be. A puppet. Whose strings would be pulled by whomever had the most to offer at the moment. Is that a president, America? IS THAT AN AMERICAN PRESIDENT? A MAN WHOSE GUIDING INTEREST IS SELF INTEREST – Doing whatever will get him what he wants – a man who will march to the tune of whomever co-opts him. If George Washington, John Adams or Benjamin Franklin were such men, you’d still be a British colony. FOR SHAME!!

Posted by Jaix | Report as abusive
 

Romney would be, by far, the biggest disappointment. He just can’t be trusted.

Posted by weneedchange | Report as abusive
 

More of the same? Yes please! I prefer disappointing to disaster.

The Republican party knowingly underfunded the Federal government (their “starve the beast” policy) during the G W Bush years. The Republicans chose to increase the federal deficit instead of reducing it. I believe they did this to create the fiscal pressures on the middle class and Federal social policies we experience now. Perhaps they do this in pursuit of a “trickle down” policy that has repeatedly failed, or perhaps they have some less honorable goal in mind (i.e. some “Ayn Rand” or “47%” type view?).

But for the business I am in to prosper, I need a stronger US middle class. The US middle class, business, and our society all need Federal judicial, commerce, and transportation involvement. Longer term, the Federal support for basic research, education, and social well being of this society are potentially more important, given the way that the world seems to work (i.e. IBM is one of the few companies that still seems to do at least some basic research, but markets no longer reward investments that don’t provide returns in a quarter it seems?). I feel that American democracy and our society need a stronger middle class, and this seems to mean we need Federal government.

Note that I do not have the option of voting for what the current Republican party would call a “Republican In Name Only” (RINO), so I will vote to stay with the current path, pick up the 8-12 million new jobs predicted for the next four years, and see which politicians actually try work together to help the country. Or perhaps Republicans will force the US into default, or let us tip over the “fiscal cliff”… Not a good outcome, but happily, I can afford the tax rates I use to pay ~10 years ago. Maybe there will be better choices in four years, but “disappointing” looks to be the best option for the sane.

Posted by Rumphius | Report as abusive
 

And then there is Harry Reid: “If Romney Wins, I’m Not Working With Him”. The House has sent the Senate over 30 economic bills that Harry Reid refuses to bring up for a vote. And Harry has us in the fourth year with no budget. But of course the House of Representatives controlled by the other party is demonized for their budget. Heaven forbid the Senate view this as a starting point to get their constitutionally mandate job done with regards the budget, as is the normal process.

Posted by johndan | Report as abusive
 

The Obama stimulus was not about building new infrastructure such as our interstate system. It was about paying off political cronies like the GM unions. Money was stripped from the GM bondholders. Nothing was done for Ford. GM and the large too big to fail banks should have been allowed to go through bankruptcy and re organized. There is also the maker and taker factor – does almost half of the us population really NEED government assitance?

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

The 2009 Obama stimulus or ARRA was about 1/3 building or research, 1/3 support for states to help with hard-hit state & local budgets, and 1/3 tax cuts for individuals, families and small business. I would think that conservative detractors would at least acknowledge this last, about $250 Billion, package of tax breaks.

The transportation part of the building aspect funded many hundreds of road improvements. Search your state DOT site to see how many. My small town had 2 overdue widening/improvements to main roads through town, a big safety enhancement, and my less populous state benefited from several dozen ARRA projects state-wide. Most people drove right by the small ‘funded by ARRA’ signs. The energy research was split pretty evenly with a few Billions for traditional oil, gas, coal and nuclear, and for renewable. The 1/10 to 1/12 of renewable projects that failed (both were new technologies that were undersold) are roughly 1/1000 of the total ARRA. ARRA research money gave several successful NASA probes extended mission as just one example of positive ripples out through economy for a few years from the 2009 ARRA.

Finally, no, ½ of Americans don’t need or get government support. Many laws ease the federal income tax burden on working poor; Reagan gave high praise to the one he signed; other deductions reward social values like marriage and raising kids, or encourage home ownership, which was seen as building local civic commitment and deterring crime. These laws to ease the poor’s federal income tax burden encourage work – instead of actual government assistance. In some sense these also offset what amount to benefits for the wealthy like low 15% capital gains tax rate or large estate tax exemptions. The people exempt from federal income tax by law still pay state and local tax, sales tax, vehicle registration fees/taxes, federal payroll tax, gasoline tax, etc. A far smaller number of Americans actually get government assistance.

Posted by Decatur | Report as abusive
 

Clueless: Gordon2352, Decatur, Jaix, weneedchange, Rumphius.

So far, the only comments that are grounded in reality are from zotdoc and johndan. The rest of you guys are rejoicing over having just cut off the branch on which you were sitting.

Posted by Tony2238 | Report as abusive
 

Nope. It’s the bitter and desparate action done by cruel and increasingly less influencial right wingers who don’t want to admit that all they ever were about was greed and causing pain. Mean and selfish, they grow ever more insignificant and will continue along that path, because their ideology is a belief and not based in reality. The simplistic lies and misdirection of their true intent are no longer fooling so many people. They speak of freedom, but force people to comply with their religious beliefs, they speak of fiscal responsibility but are accountable for most of our debt. As with the previous election and this, most people did not vote democratic, they voted against the republicans. Cruelty can be painted up however you want, but it’s still cruelty.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive
 

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