Now that the summer of incivility has left our political structures reeking, politicians and pundits alike must find ways to reach across the partisan wall or face the most divisive presidential election in decades.
If summer is supposed to be a dormant period for politics, one couldn’t tell. Let us assess the humor and horror of this summer where partisanship spread like a deadly heat wave across the country-from Washington to Texas to California.
Locally, Texas politics returned to the freak show form it knew so many years ago. First came the overriding Republicans, using their newfound majority as a bludgeoning tool, choosing to carry the big stick and beat Democrats with it.
Democrats responded by whining, no doubt feeling the desperation of losing both houses of the state Legislature and every statewide office. Rather than accepting minority status and taking what they were happy to give for more than 100 years, they ran away, upset that the voters of Texas had taken away their control of the state.
Another round of session-calling by a power-hungry majority; another round of whining and running by a shell-shocked and desperate minority. Excessive fines and accusations of racism mark the lows to which the parties have sunk.
In California, a disgraced governor who lied to his public, taxed and spent his economy into a hole bigger than many state budgets and failed to show any capability as an executive, won re-election because the other party was too inept to run a qualified candidate.
Republican recall efforts have been tainted by circus sideshow accusations, while the Democrats’ best option is a lieutenant governor who hates yet pretends to support his boss. “No to the recall,” he says, “but yes to me.”
In Washington, where the president promised to be a unifier, not a divider, division runs deeper than merely political differences.
The Democrats, unable to find an issue or a contender that rings true with the silent majority-those who supported war with Iraq, support the war on terrorism and are ambivalent toward nationalized health care-resorted to filibusters that have energized their base and exasperated the American public.
The hatred of the left toward President Bush has mixed with its fury of being out of power. This resulted in the dark horse candidacy of Howard Dean, whose angry rhetoric captures this summer of insanity.
Republicans in Washington also have failed to restore the respect for the minority party they promised in 1994.
Conservative pundits, such as Ann Coulter, brand every left-leaning politician and pundit as a traitor; liberals, such as Al Franken, brand everyone else as liars.
What a horrible mess. Columnist George F. Will, in noticing the rampant cases of open disrespect in what should be the statesman’s sphere, called such situations “vandalism by political overreachers in both parties.”
Vandalism in the political neighborhood can only lead to that neighborhood’s ruin, and as 2004 approaches, that ruin could be fast-approaching.