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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Divided United States

The Local Lens

Published• Wed, Nov 07, 2012

By Thom Nickels

The election is over, and we now know who will be the next president of the United States. Whoever the winner is, 50 percent of the U.S. population is unhappy about the outcome and will soon get to work for an election upset in 2016, in effect reversing the victory cries you will hear this week.

Although many will delude themselves into thinking that America has turned a corner in either voting liberal or conservative, that’s not the case at all. The other 50 percent whose candidate did not win will more than likely see to it that the changes made in the next four years are undone or denuded after 2016. This maddening pendulum shift has become a common feature in American political life: something preventing the country from heading in a steady, secure direction. How can a nation evolve if it is split down the middle and keeps swaying back and forth between conservative and progressive?

It might help to review this game of hopscotch: From liberal Jimmy Carter to conservative Ronald Reagan, "Rockefeller" GOP liberal George Bush to Republican-style liberal Democrat Bill Clinton, conservative George W. Bush to liberal Barack Obama, to… The last part, of course, is for you to fill in.

Occasionally, the two political parties come together in apparent agreement on a number of issues, causing many to exclaim that the two are really one, the only difference being window dressing. Skeptics and cynics point to the World Banking system or an invisible cabal of handlers or corporate controllers who dictate the agenda of each president. Today it’s not uncommon to hear: "It doesn’t matter who wins, the same things will continue to be problems—the economy, gas prices, unemployment, high prices. The only ones who stand to benefit will be the very rich, corporations and banks."

A lot of that is true. Take Obamacare, for instance. According to international standards, Obamacare is anything but real socialism, but American conservatives see it as a big fat red Marxist flag. Even dyed-in-the-wool real socialists have little time for Obamacare because they see it as the extreme opposite of universal free health care, something that all of Western Europe and Canada enjoys. With Obamacare, the poor will still have to pay premiums that most likely will still be too expensive for them to afford.

The two parties take divergent paths when it comes to some social issues, Medicare and Social Security for example. In last week’s Spirit, six people were asked, "What do you think is the most important issue in this election?" All six responses hit on this and other important topics like the economy and foreign affairs.

I would not think that former Vice Presidential candidate (and devout Catholic) Paul Ryan, who claims to be a devotee of Ayn Rand (an atheist who wrote a book entitled The Art of Selfishness), would do very much to protect Social Security. And after Hurricane Sandy, even though our area was spared the worst, climate change could certainly be numbered as a crucial issue, even if Mr. Romney dismisses it as witchcraft. But climate change, like the issue of gay marriage, is one of those social issues headed to the trans-partisan realm. When New York Mayor Bloomberg, once a skeptic of climate change, came out in support of Obama in light of Hurricane Sandy, he spoke for thousands of people who also saw the light: Climate change is a scientific fact.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a gay daughter, supported gay marriage back in 2004 during the Vice Presidential debates. Even conservative Republican leader Barry Goldwater supported gay marriage during his lifetime. It’s a known fact that Republicans have gay children just as Democrats and Independents do. This is why gay marriage will no longer be a partisan issue in the coming years. Gay marriage is inevitable, but this does not mean that religions that oppose it should be forced to act against their beliefs.

Abortion is a different issue involving complicated questions like, when does life begin? I can tell you that as a former hospital operating room orderly in my twenties, I witnessed the eerie sounds of therapeutic abortion suction machines. It was my job to transport aborted babies (called fetuses by officials) to the pathology department. Today I am of the opinion that abortion is a far more complex issue than just a "woman’s right to choose."

I have a friend who voted for Romney and who spent the last three months predicting a Romney victory, telling Obama supporters to "prepare for a great shock." I voted the opposite of my friend although I did so with little enthusiasm. I voted for the incumbent to safeguard Medicare and Social Security and to do something about climate change, but I had zero faith in either candidate to get the economy rolling again. The economy is beyond whoever is elected president. In most financial issues, Republicans and Democrats see with one eye.

My heart was really with the Green Party, Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, because these candidates spoke about ending bailouts for the financial elite, breaking up oversized banks like Bank of America, forgiving student debt, and ending the mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Unfortunately, I think the Green Party made a mistake in not creating a more mainstream team to present to America. While feminism has made inroads into every facet of daily life, America hasn’t reached the "consciousness" stage where it would be "natural" to vote for two women. In presidential politics, image is everything, so it didn’t help that the Green VP candidate was an ex-pole dancer who looks like Patti Smith. The Green Party should have realized that this would not wash in Iowa or the Kansas plain country.

Getting back to my friend who predicted a Romney win, he also agrees with me that the losing party will come back in 2016 even stronger and elect one of their own who will try to negate many of the changes made in the preceding administration. He also predicts that this eternal back and forth will not go on forever, and that one day soon the nation will be broken up into autocephalous or self-governing liberal and conservative areas. He believes that this situation will not be arrived at through violent civil war but through peaceful means. "Out of sheer exhaustion," he said, "because these differences are not going to go away."

"Let the conservatives have Texas and let the progressives have Vermont," he added. "We can all visit one another and vacation in the other place but then go home to the spot where we feel most comfortable."