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The real split in American politics

LATE ON SUPER Tuesday, I was typing on my blog in one room while Hillary Clinton was addressing her supporters on the TV in another.

I couldn’t hear every word, but the ones that did cut through were telling:

Now, we know the Republicans won’t give up the White House without a fight. Well, let me be clear — I won’t let anyone swift boat this country’s future.

“Republicans.” “Fight.” “Swift boat.” Terms calculated to stir the blood of the Angry Faithful. Then, later: “Together, we’re going to take back America.”

There was kinder, gentler stuff (if I’m allowed to borrow language from that other side) in the speech, about health care for all and supporting our veterans and helping the powerless. But Barack Obama talks about that stuff, too. Since these primaries are about choosing one or the other, one listens for the differences.

Between Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama, the difference lies in those fighting words. It’s a difference set out with great clarity in a recent letter to the editor in this newspaper:

...(W)hile Sen. Barack Obama is an incredible orator and inspires hope for a post-partisan future, the reality of American politics is partisan. Astute voters realize this and want the candidate who is best suited to fight the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton and her team have gone toe-to-toe with the Republicans and beaten them more often than not.

The reality of American politics is partisan. And Barack Obama is running on a platform of changing that reality. So, in his own way, is John McCain.

The Democrats to whom Sen. Clinton appeals don’t despise Sen. Obama (they save that for Republicans), but they don’t see him as having his blood sufficiently up for doing battle with the “enemy.” And they’re right.

Consider what Sen. Obama said in South Carolina on the night of his primary victory:

We are up against decades of bitter partisanship that cause politicians to demonize their opponents... it’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea — even if it’s one you never agreed with. That’s the kind of politics that is bad for our party, it’s bad for our country, and this is our chance to end it once and for all.

In the Republican camp, Sen. McCain has done more than just talk about moving beyond mindless partisanship; he’s risked his political future repeatedly to work with Democrats to achieve goals that put country before party. Last week, he asked the Angry Faithful in his party to “calm down,” and defended his habit of working across the aisle. Self-appointed spokesman for the Angry Faithful Rush Limbaugh responded:

When did the measure of conservatism... become reaching out to Democrats?... If this were a war, what we're saying is, “Enemy, come on in, and come be who you are when you get here.”... We view those people as threats to the American way of life, as we’ve always known it.... We view them as people who need to be defeated, not worked with.

The truly great irony here is that the Angries on the left and the right do work together. In their pas de deux of mutual loathing, they cling to each other so tightly that there’s no room for anyone who’d like to separate them and create a space for rational discourse, or — the gods of left and right forbid — agreement on issues.

Here’s an example of how the left’s Angries work with their counterparts on the right: The left emotionally demands stem cell research, as Sen. Clinton did in her speech Tuesday. The right cries, No, Never! Ignored are such facts as a) stem cell research is going on, just without federal funding in some areas; b) recent breakthroughs could make embryonic stem cells, the kind being fought over, irrelevant; and c) the man Sen. Clinton seeks to face in the fall, John McCain, favors broadened stem cell research.

Another example: Last week, the leftists of the Berkeley, Calif., city council dissed the U.S. Marines. Eager warriors on the right (such as our own Rep. Joe Wilson and Sen. Jim DeMint) practically fell over themselves rushing to denounce the Berkeley council. The Marines are a great bogeyman for the loonies in Berkeley; Berkeley is a rare, juicy steak to the right. Call me paranoid, but sometimes I suspect the two sides of working out these stunts between them ahead of time. Everybody comes out on top, except the Marines — and somehow I think the guys who took Iwo Jima will overcome this as well.

There is indeed a stark divide in this country, but it’s not between the Angry Left and the Angry Right. They just prop each other up. Collectively, they are both the Other Side to me, striving to distract us from realizing the central truth that we’re all in this together.

On the one hand are the Clinton Democrats and the Republicans who sincerely would rather see Sen. Clinton elected than Sen. McCain. They depend upon each other. They deserve each other.

The rest of us believe we deserve, for once, a presidential election between candidates who care more about solutions than whether left or right “wins.”

This is not about affirming some “mushy middle.” You can hardly find two positions farther apart that the McCain and Obama views on Iraq. They have very different ideas on how to fight America’s enemies abroad. But at least neither of them sees the main “enemy” as being their fellow Americans who happen to disagree.

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