Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Beginning of the End tells the story of two Obama supporters who were nearly assaulted for showing up at a McCain rally in Florida.

"I had a guy tell me he was gonna kill me," reported one of the men.
This has gotten out of hand. The point that Bill Bishop has been making over at The Big Sort, that we are separating ourselves into mutually exclusive groups, is becoming more and more apparent.
"We read apart, live apart, watch apart, blog apart, and drive apart; we are one country that lacks any shared experiences or, it seems, common purpose."
Bill Bishop

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
Abraham Lincoln, 1858
Lincoln, however, did not expect the Union to be dissolved - the house wasn't going to fall. He understood that one side or the other would prevail, and that, in effect, a monoculture would come into effect. It took a war, but the culture of slaveholding was extinguished, and the United States became a Free nation.

Will today's Liberals and Conservatives wage war to eliminate their opposition? And if they don't, how will we return to shared experience or a common purpose? A war with outsiders has never, despite what some people have said, brought this about. During the Second World War, European Axis prisoners of was routinely received better treatment than did black soldiers, or Japanese-American citizens, at the hands of the United States. The war against Communism in Veit Nam seemed to do little or nothing to make us into a single society, accepting of all its members. And a woeful lack of trained speakers of Arabic to help wage the War on Terror didn't keep the military from expelling homosexuals with required skills.

I don't claim to have a spectacular imagination, but I don't know what else would work. As the partisan atmosphere becomes more and more toxic (as people simply recirculate their own air more and more), we've moved beyond looking for solutions to simply looking to assign blame. While it is important to understand the conditions that brought us to the point where we are now, the public floggings of the people who nurtured those conditions (while it may be satisfying) does nothing to change those conditions. We are reaching a point where partisan bickering will take us to a point where we beat each other with fiddles while our home burns around us.

Anyone who has ever attempted to get a quarter-dozen people to agree on all the toppings for a pizza understands the impossible task that lies before anyone who would attempt to forge 300,000,000+ people into a single cultural entity. In very real ways, our society is only as harmonious as it is because we stopped engaging with one another around many important issues.

If there is one thing that is a strike against both Senators McCain and Obama, it's that they didn't have the sense to walk away while they still could. I suspect that whichever of them wins, a year from now, they'll wish they hadn't. Senator Obama is likely to get some time to work with things - he's likely to have a Democratic Congress to back him up - in so far as a Congress run by Democrats can do anything in concert. But the Republicans aren't going to be content to wait out their exile in the political wilderness - sabotage will be the order of the day. You could make the point that even the most strident Republican would back a good idea that came from the other side - but once you've become convinced that simply the fact that it originated with the other side makes it a bad idea, monkeywrenching goes from being contrary to a sacred duty.

In the meantime, the house will become further divided against itself. And I expect that this time, it will fall.

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