A Nation Divided

Posted: Mar 26, 2004 12:00 AM

March means springtime. And basketball. And -- political attacks?

Well, this year it does.

John Kerry?s under fire for some off-the-cuff remarks. Did he speak to any foreign leaders, or is he making it up?

For his part, President Bush is facing questions about whether he?s kept the promises he made back 2000. According to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, he hasn?t.

Oh, sure, Cohen admits, "[Bush] promised to reduce taxes, to ?rebuild the military,? to institute a missile defense system and to impose education standards -- all of which he has done. Still, he gets a failing grade."

How so?

"It was at Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 14, 1999, that Bush declared himself ?a uniter, not a divider,? Cohen writes. That?s "maybe his most important promise and the one he has clearly not kept."

But, as the clich?oes, it takes two to tango. Nobody can unite those who don?t want to be united. That?s why the Hatfields and the McCoys shot it out for decades. That?s why the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" has borne no fruit. Still, in Cohen?s view, if his detractors don?t want to get along with him, Bush is a divider.

The fact is President Bush entered office after an extremely difficult election. It was a virtual tie. No matter what he does, there are tens of millions of people who will always refuse to work with him.

As a fellow named Hal e-mailed me from New York last year, "If the state of Florida, (run by his brother), and the Supreme Court, conspire to steal the election and give it to Bush AGAIN in 2004, I will at that point devote my life to being a political activist bent on the exposition of the evils of the Republican Party and all those crooked, twisted little hate-mongers who run it."

As another example, an otherwise intelligent friend refers to George W. Bush as "your president." Neither of these people, nor the Democratic presidential candidates who spent months on the campaign trail attacking the president?s record, have any interest in being "united."

Cohen accuses Bush of "pursuing policies and appointments that sometimes seem designed to do nothing more than energize the president?s conservative base and drive everyone else up the wall." Not quite.

In fact, when Bush made his first 11 nominations to the federal bench in the spring of 2001, he had Democratic support. Then Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle told the New York Times, "I?m pleased the White House has chosen to work with us on this first group of nominees." The May 10, 2001 Times also reported, "none of the Senate Democratic leaders who spoke to reporters at a news conference today -- Daschle, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, top Democrat on that panel?s courts subcommittee -- criticized any of the nominees."

Still, those judicial hopefuls didn?t get a fair shake. Later that month, Sen. Jim Jeffords changed party affiliation, the Senate went into Democratic hands, and the wait was on. Nominee Miguel Estrada waited 16 months for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He was lucky. Four others never got one. It should come as no surprise that, since his non-controversial nominees weren?t getting hearings, President Bush eventually decided to make some more-controversial appointments.

But the president?s divisiveness doesn?t stop at the water?s edge. Bush has "all but wrecked the Atlantic alliance," Cohen says. "Of course, as in the United States, some of this animosity or antipathy toward Bush has to do with policy and programs -- the war in Iraq in particular." In other words, Cohen thinks Bush has squandered the international goodwill we saw after Sept. 11, when even the liberal French newspaper Le Monde stated, "We are all Americans."

At that terrible moment, it?s true we were briefly on our knees. And we were pleased the Europeans put a friendly hand on our shoulder. Sadly, those same Europeans were quick to withdraw their support, and their sympathy, when President Bush refused to go along with them on such issues as the International Criminal Court and the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Turns out that hand on our shoulder wasn?t there to help us up; it was attempting to hold us down. Weren?t Europeans being divisive when they offered us support in a time of tragedy, but withdrew it for purely political reasons?

Cohen?s correct about one thing: We?re a divided nation. But it?s not completely George W. Bush?s fault. Perhaps he hasn?t always bent over backward to work with liberals. But neither he nor John Kerry has the power to bring us all together. In fact, Osama bin Laden might be the only person who can completely unite us now, as he did on Sept. 11. So let?s pray for further division.