A changed America: divided we stand, or ready to move forward
Today begins the final days of the George W. Bush presidency and perhaps the beginning of the end of eight years of political hell.
The image of the arrogant boors in Florida taunting Gore supporters in December 2000 shouting, “Get over it! You lost!” as if it what was being decided were an athletic contest, has been seared into my consciousness.
That boorish mentality, reflective of fans who curse refs and opponents and spill beer on fans in front of them, is what guided Bush from the get-go. You’re with us or against us.
Having carried their water for eight years, one would expect celebratory tunes, a fanfare like “76 Trombones,” to be aired by the rightwing media. Bush was their boy, after all, all they could ask for, until, that is, he nationalized the banks—a socialist in capitalist clothing.
To the rest of us, Bush was Prince Prospero in Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” He cocooned himself with the wealthy elite in what they thought was an air-tight economic palace, partying while the masses outside suffered from the economic plague.
They were delusional, though, believing they would be immune; to their chagrin, the grim reaper appeared in the form of the economic meltdown. Facing death, they called in the physician—government—they had always disparaged.
America has not survived the Bush years unscathed. Bush’s legacy: massive debt, an economic tsunami, a disastrous foreign policy, civil liberties under assault, energy and healthcare costs skyrocketing, a crumbling infrastructure, and a distrustful, divided, and disillusioned populace.
America’s post-Bush landscape can be likened, then, to the tundra after ATV drivers have recklessly left their scars. It takes years, but it can be restored.
In surviving the ordeal, America has moved to a different place.
Some argue we remain a center-right country, one in which liberal/progressive ideas struggle to survive. History, though, disputes that in terms of economic issues. The recent rescuing of the financial sector along with other businesses gives evidence of that.
Creation of a national healthcare program is a matter of time. With it, the circle of safety-net programs that form our social infrastructure—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—will be complete.
Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, holds what is center-right is not the country but the framework in which progressive measures must traverse to become law. The filibuster rule of the Senate as well as the daunting hurdles an amendment to the US Constitution must overcome—unlike in Colorado where it might be amended 14 times this year alone—has resulted in it being changed only 17 times since adding the first ten.
As for the culture war, notably absent from the 2008 campaign was the Republican motto in 2004: God, guns, and gays. Fear, nevertheless, still remains standard fair for Republicans. This time the fear-and-smear campaign was updated to be apropos for 2008: terrorist, Muslim, and socialist, which, come to think if it, is so retro.
Anna Quindlen states in her Newsweek column the culture war is over and we liberals have won. I hesitate to declare mission accomplished, but we are winning. Americans, particularly those born post-Nixon, are more and more acknowledging a person’s right to privacy is not only ethically sacrosanct but also inalienable.
That will continue to have profound repercussions both in terms of a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and of same-sex couples to have the same legal rights as their hetero counterparts.
The outcome of California’s Proposition 8, which would relegate same-sex couples once again to the back of the bus when it comes to equal protection under the law, will be an indicator as to how fast we are moving.
It will likely be voted up or down by the thinnest of margins. If passed by a squeaky margin rather than the 60 percent it received initially before being struck down by the Supreme Court, it will be a victory for both sides: a Pyrrhic victory for the forces of bigotry and meanness but a moral victory for those who accept the Jeffersonian ideal that holds all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Like national healthcare, same-sex marriage is only a matter of time.
So, what is the prognosis for post-Bush America?
If the result of the presidential race is close, we will remain in the divided state Bush has fostered. Barack Obama will ludicrously labor to prove he can govern despite his race, and John McCain has made it clear he’d rather govern a divided and fearful country than lose an election.
If it is a landslide, it will be Obama’s, a statement by the American people that it’s time to move forward with a sense of common purpose. By the time you read this, you will know.