American politics exists in a disingenuous bubble of partisan acrimony that finds its roots in intellectual dishonesty and a media universe that promotes confrontation and spectacle over objective news analysis, and we as a public and a nation are much poorer for it. The fact that the political process has become a pawn of such overt gamesmanship at the expense of what is true or factual has reduced our process to a series of accusations and name calling while serious policy is abrogated and substantive progress is derailed or ignored. Whether its President Obama accusing Paul Ryan of wanting to destroy Medicare, Donald Trump playing the birther card, unions in Wisconsin equating Governor Walker with Hitler and staging mass sit ins to block legislation, House Republicans making Planned Parenthood the focus of their budget negotiations, or the President mocking the serious nature of immigration policy by saying opponents to his plan want to build a “moat with alligators” between the US and Mexico, the level of rancor and willingness to demagogue is endemic and getting worse, while the actual act of governing the country appears to fall by the wayside.
The partisan divide extends to both parties, and the loser in every case is the American people. My own personal opinion is that the larger degree of vitriol and overt nastiness tends to come more so from liberal Democrats, which is appalling because I hold them to a higher standard for truth and decency, and for a dozen years now they have failed on that measure. The ghost of Robert Kennedy would be appalled. But the roots of the current unprincipled nastiness, I believe, has its direct beginning in the hatred and vicious attacks against Bill Clinton when he was President, culminating in the preposterous and humiliating impeachment of President Clinton over a blowjob, as ridiculous an exercise as ever displayed in the political theatre of this country. That we would bring the country to a halt, hold a $100 million dollar inquiry, and tie up the functions of the United States Government over Monica Lewinsky blowing Bill Clinton was unbelievable, hypocritical, and a horrendous stain on the Congress and the Republicans who pursued it. While it is true that Clinton should have settled with Paula Jones years before, and there may have been some impropriety in the Jones deposition, and having sex with an intern constitutes a lapse in judgment, the humiliation of the President was part and parcel of a concerted effort to delegitimize him throughout his Presidency. Which is truly a shame, because Bill Clinton, working with the Republican Congress on substantive issues of the economy and the budget, was an excellent President, and would actually have been elected to a third term had he been able to run. The aftermath of the vitriol of impeachment created an atmosphere where anything goes, where no political calculation was subservient to decency or to the truth. We have reaped the whirlwind ever since.
The election of George Bush triggered the first pushback from Democrats after the protracted Supreme Court decision that decided the Florida vote count, and from that point on they attempted to delegitimize the Bush presidency. Never mind that Al Gore failed to carry his home state of Tennessee or President Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, or that he failed to enlist Clinton’s help in the campaign, even in Arkansas, and so his failure to win the election was his own fault, not the Supreme Court’s or the people of Florida’s. It did not help that he ran a poor campaign and was a lackluster, stilted candidate. The partisan air of backbiting that ensued was, I contend, a direct result of Republican hysteria during the Clinton impeachment, and a feeling among Democrats that anything was fair game from that point on, but the continued partisan extremism had yet to reach its zenith.
That point came with the start of the Iraq war, and the post invasion decision by Democrats, most of whom supported the war or voted to authorize it prior to the invasion, to actively and openly oppose their own country in the midst of a war, making it an overt political issue, and drumming up the “Bush lied, people died” mantra that characterized more than a dishonest and hypocritical approach to foreign policy. It actively provided aid and comfort to the insurgency, attempted to undermine American resolve at a crucial time in the war, all in the name of overt partisanship designed to weaken the President, and was based on false pretenses and blatant distortions of the truth. The apex was Harry Reid proclaiming the war was “lost” just months before the surge strategy he opposed successfully reduced the violence, ended the war for all practical purposes, and allowed the withdrawal phase to begin. The negative effect of Democratic slanders against President Bush was not only highly partisan, it was fundamentally dishonest, harmed the country, and prolonged the war effort.
Not that there weren’t legitimate areas to criticize President Bush when it came to Iraq. He should have had a much bigger imprint in the country for the invasion, 300,000 troops (like Shinseki wanted). There should never have been the looting in Bagdad that occurred. They should have secured the borders with Syria and Iran. They should never have disbanded the Iraqi army. No one in the Bush administration seemed to have read a single book about the occupation of Germany and Japan. Our fumbling post occupation presence certainly extended the period of transition. At the same time, the nature and tone of the partisan sniping by Democrats was both unseemly and constant, largely unhelpful, and completely hypocritical. President Obama opposed the surge, used the Iraq war issue as a bludgeon against Hilary Clinton, and rode it all the way to the White House, where he has ironically benefitted from the success of the surge, and largely followed President Bush’s roadmap there ever since.
In the process, the partisan wedge has slipped into overdrive on both sides of the political fence, but especially with President Obama. While the onslaught against Obama is palpable and largely unseemly, the President has been hyper-partisan as well, on the stimulus, health care, Wall Street reform, and immigration, alienating independent voters in the process and polarizing the body politic. The partisan agenda of Pelosi, Reid and Obama was soundly rejected at the polls in 2010, yet the same playbook is being used by the President on the budget negotiations and the issue of the deficit and the national debt. Demonizing Paul Ryan on Medicare and engaging in class warfare on the budget is as ridiculous and irritating as Republicans who question the President’s birth certificate. The voters are tired of it. The issues of cutting Federal spending, reforming entitlement programs, and paying off the deficit are subjects that must be addressed, but partisanship will almost certainly ensure that they won’t be addressed decisively until after the next election. At that point, the partisan divide is likely to work against the current President, but in the aftermath the country may be better for it.
About the Author: LJ Keith is a non-partisan commentator taking aim at all aspects of governmental domestic and foreign policy and the American social landscape with an eye toward explaining what the functional realities of life in the modern age are grounded in, how they can be understood, and what context to view the changing face of life in America with a view to historical imperatives and precedents, factual displacement of rhetoric and hype, and objective consideration of frequently subjective interpretations of day to day events. LJ Keith holds to no party or paradigm, finds his truth in the belief that sincerity and honesty is the most constructive form of dialogue, and is not afraid to confront ugly truths and social misunderstandings by objectifying them with historical and societal considerations that are frequently lost in the rush to judge, pacify, terrify, or obscure the reality of what is occurring in the political and social dialogue. He explores issues, personalities, society, and individual expression from the framework of an ingrained personal belief system that demands we try to explore and face the reality of what is if we are to truly understand what we want things to be.