Pollsters Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell, both Democrats, took on President Obama in a column in the Wall Street Journal last week, criticizing him for not being true to his campaign promise to unify the country.
“Rather than being a unifier,” they say, “Mr. Obama has divided America on the basis of race, class, and partisanship.”
They don’t see Republicans as any better. They claim that Republicans have just followed the administration in trying to exploit hot buttons of race and class.
“….the Republican leadership has failed to put forth an agenda that is more positive, unifying, and inclusive.”
Although it seems so warm and cuddly to consider the idea of national “unity”, what does this really mean? Particularly, what does it mean in a free country?
Isn’t the whole point and beauty of freedom that we recognize differences among us as natural and that we view debate, differences of viewpoint, and dissent as healthy? Doesn’t the idea of “unity” – of uniformity - conjure up images of exactly what this country is not about?
A recent Gallup poll on confidence of Americans in our various institutions shows that far and away the institution that we have most confidence in is our military.
On the most basic question – our survival – and our attitude toward those whose job it is to protect us – Americans are not suffering from division and ambivalence.
But in contrast to the military, in which 76% of Americans express a “great deal” of confidence, in what institution do we show the least confidence?
The U.S. Congress. Only 11% of Americans express confidence in our elected Representatives.
Understanding why there is such a world of difference in how Americans view our soldiers opposed to our Congress sheds light on the unity issue.
The first order of business in doing a job evaluation is defining what that job is. Once that is clear, we can determine if it is being done well.
In this regard, we have pretty good clarity regarding our armed forces and what their job is. We may have differences regarding how we use our troops. But that it is civilian question, not a military question.
When the appropriateness of General McChrystal’s behavior came into question and he was fired, the outspoken General saluted and quietly exited as a soldier and a gentleman.
But how about the U.S. Congress? Consider your sense of clarity regarding what their job is compared to our military. Consider your sense of what they think their job is.
A little vague? A lot vague?
This is where our problem lies.
America isn’t about unity. America is about freedom.
But in order to be free, we’ve got to have a government that protects life, liberty, and property with the same zeal and clarity that our military protects our physical selves.
It’s the job of government to enforce the rules by which we live and to perform its various functions consistent with those rules. But our national consensus of what those rules are – what life is, what liberty is, what property is – has become troublingly vague and unclear.
How can we possibly have a government that works when increasingly we don’t even know what it is supposed to do? How can we have a government that works when we have so many elected officials that don’t know what they are supposed to do?
The question on the table today is not whether Americans will be unified. The question is whether we want to be free.
And if so, if we have the national will to revisit and do what it takes to be true once again to the basic “self evident truths” expressed so clearly in our Declaration of Independence.