THE PUBLIC EYE: The Disunited States: Can This Marriage be Saved?

By Bob Burnett
Friday April 20, 2012 - 02:30:00 PM

Now that it’s clear Barack Obama will be the 2012 Democratic nominee for President and Mitt Romney the Republican nominee, we’ll probably hear from a prominent third-Party candidate. He or she will promise to end the savage partisanship that characterizes US politics – pledge to bring us together, save the marriage. But America doesn’t need a counselor; we need a good divorce attorney. 

Recently, the New York Times speculated about who might run as a third Party candidate in 2012 and former Utah Governor John Huntsman was among the names mentioned. Huntsman observed the current political system is “broken” and a third Party is the only way to fix it. While the current political system is broken, but there’s no obvious quick fix. 

Not long ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, there was a brief window of unity where political affiliations were set aside and the system seemed to work. We stood together as Americans and chanted, “USA! USA!” Then partisanship returned with a vicious edge. Comity vanished from Capitol Hill. 

Writing about our broken political system, journalist Sara Robinson observed America is like a troubled couple who goes to a counselor and reveals their lack of trust. “Just like in a marriage, when that trust is damaged, our future viability as a nation becomes a wide-open question.” 

Although partisanship had escalated before 9/11, it reached new extremes in the next twelve months – the fragile trust between Democrats and Republicans was fractured. Republicans told a dreadful lie – Saddam Hussein had orchestrated the terrorist attacks – and the Bush Administration launched a catastrophic war in Iraq. Less obvious was another GOP lie, America could pay for its new war without sacrifice – no new taxes were required. As a consequence, the US spent more than a trillion dollars on the Iraq war, suffered through tens of thousands dead and injured, incurred five trillion dollars in national debt, and busted the consumer economy.  

Voters swallowed the lies and George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. Republicans were emboldened and the “marriage” entered a new phase Robinson aptly described as “bullying.” Republicans “embraced bullying as a political strategy and an acceptable cultural norm, which has in turn coarsened our civil discourse to the point of democratic breakdown.” 

For the past decade, we’ve seen bullying spread throughout the Republican conservative orthodoxy (25 to 35 percent of the electorate). Economic conservatives are more strident, preaching: “Government is the problem;” “No new taxes;” “Corporations are people;” and “The one percent should be able to spend as much as they want to influence elections.” Conservatives have armed themselves with legions of lawyers and lobbyists to protect the power of the one percent. 

Social conservatives, the other fist of the Republican Party, are more dogmatic. They’ve latched onto the rising tide of ultra-conservative, Old Testament Christianity with its far-out morality: “The United States is a Christian nation;” “All Muslims hate us;” “Non-Whites cannot be trusted;” and “Women must be subservient to their husbands and all other men.” Conservatives preach that only those who subscribe to their tenets will be saved; the rest of us are damned. 

As the central tactic in their bullying strategy, Republicans are unwilling to compromise. It’s “take it or leave it,” “if you don’t agree with our demands then we will shut down the government.” 

If we were in a relationship with someone who acted like this – a bully who demanded that we swallow all their beliefs, refused to compromise, and called us names when we wouldn’t toe the line – and we went to marriage counseling, the counselor would throw up their hands and suggest we hire a competent divorce attorney. The counselor would observe that we no longer had the key ingredients of a healthy marriage: trust, empathy that allows one see our partner’s point-of-view, and willingness to compromise. 

But the United States isn’t a couple. We can’t get a divorce. There’s no simple way out of the conflict we’re in other than to undertake the difficult task of stopping the bullying. After all, the bullies are a minority.  

Here are four things we can do. First, we can tell the truth about what has happened to the Disunited States and what needs to be done to get us back together. We can proclaim over and over: the Republicans have had their chance; their ideology doesn’t work.  

Second, those of us who are not conservatives can stand together. We outnumber the bullies two to one. We can close ranks and stand up for the 99 percent – stand up for Democracy. 

Third, those of us who stand for the 99 percent can boycott hate radio and television, all media sources that foment bullying behavior. We can refuse to support any business that sponsors conservative propaganda. 

Fourth, those of us who stand for the 99 percent can unite behind President Obama. Conservatives are an extreme minority, but they’re attempting to buy control of government by disenfranchising millions of voters, deluging Independent voters with negative ads, and demoralizing Obama supporters. President Obama’s far from perfect but he’s infinitely preferable to plutocrat Mitt Romney, who is a bully in sheep’s clothing. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at