Last night, despite national uneasiness over the war in Iraq, record federal budget deficits, looming concern over healthcare costs, speculation that the Abramoff campaign finance scandal goes straight to the top, controversy over the legality of domestic wire tapping and an approval rating below 40%, George W. Bush looked confident as he gave his “State of the Union” address. Of course what comes off as confident to one set of eyes can easily be perceived as a total disconnect from reality to another.
Whether or not you believe that things are going well, or if you are optimistic when murmurs of “impeachment” are heard over talk-radio airwaves, one thing is abundantly obvious – America is a nation divided.
To even the most novice of political spectators it was plain to see last night that the room was divided on nearly every single issue the President spoke about. From the war to healthcare, education to the environment, fifty percent of those in attendance showed their disapproval whenever President Bush addressed an issue.
It even made for some fairly comical moments. Senator Clinton could be seen rolling her eyes and chuckling to herself when the President asked for the Patriot act to be renewed. In another instance the Democrats sarcastically leapt to their feet and cheered when Bush sheepishly admitted his Social Security reform bill had been voted down last year. Hey, even I had to chuckle when the President announced his plan for cutting the deficit in half by 2009. (But George, we had a surplus when you took office!)
Sadly, there were only two times when the room was united in applause. When President Bush was entering and leaving the room. In the fifty minutes between these rare displays of unity the political divide of this country was clearly seen.
It doesn’t seem long ago that George W. Bush, while campaigning for his first term as President, repeatedly told the American public that he was “a uniter, not a divider.” Six years later one needs to have barely a finger on the pulse of American politics to see that the two sides are deeply divided. There is little cooperation or compromise when core party values are on the line and, not surprisingly, little is accomplished as a result.
But there is reason for hope.
As more individuals in the mainstream of American culture become more politically astute there is a voice that is emerging. Those whom the pundits like to classify as “moderates” are growing increasingly intolerant of the stubbornness of those on the far left and the far right. What is emerging is a spirit of communication, cooperation and of compromise. I like to call it the “spirit of common sense.”
I had a conversation with a relative recently who expressed his belief that most people don’t care about party lines, they just wanted those in power to “show a little common sense.” I believe that common sense is what this country was founded on and it continues to be the cornerstone of true democracy today. It is self-government at its pinnacle expression – where each side works together, at tremendous expense of the ego, to bring about the greater good for all.
Where partisanship divides and is nearly always unrepentant, common sense calls for sacrifice. Common sense begins with a fundamental understanding that in order for us all to truly gain, we’re each going to have to give up a little something in the process. On any given issue, if you look hard enough, you can find the spirit of common sense.
And if you listen hard enough you can hear the voice of common sense emerging in the political arena as well. With mid-term elections on the horizon more and more moderate voices are garnering attention. A young generation of politicians is emerging whose central message is “let’s work together.” Moderate voices such as Sen. Barack Obama (D – Illinois) are getting more attention from the media because their message and attitude come as a breath of fresh air.
And if common sense is to return to American politics it will do so through the voice of the silent majority. Through those who value “common sense” over party affiliation. As more individuals ignore the talking heads and evaluate candidates on how much sense they make, regardless of which party they represent, the true will of the American people will emerge.
At least I hope so. I don’t know how much more division we can take.