A Nation So Utterly Divided…

How did this happen? How did we become so utterly and bitterly divided?  Was it 9/11? Was it the Bush administration? Karl Rove? Rush Limbaugh?  Monica Lewinsky’s oral arguments with Bill Cliinton? The presidential election of 2000? The Iraq War?  Barack Obama?  Gay marriage?  Abortion.  The “war on Christmas?  What in the world… I mean, how the hell did this happen?

I’m serious about this… we’re starting to make the Middle East look like united they stand.

I don’t think it goes all the way back to Richard M. Nixon, or anything like that.  I know the Vietnam War and Watergate divided some of us, but we all seemed like we got through that turmoil pretty much intact, and no one seems to even remembers stuff like Iran-Contra.

And not only are we splitting off in more directions than the London subway, but I’m afraid too many of us have started to like it that way.  It’s become a badge of honor for some people.  Like, if I’m a “conservative” does that mean I’m anti-environment to the point that I’m basically in favor of paving the planet?  And if I’m a liberal, does that mean that I want condoms handed out in Kindergarten.

It used to be that “conservative” meant “fiscal conservative”.  But, President George W. Bush was a “conservative,” and Republicans often say they’re conservatives, but in view of their spending record, even though they keep using that word, I just don’t think it means what they think it means. And if the Democrats are supposed to be the “liberals,” then why are they spending trillions on Wall Street and leaving the working class to “eat cake”.

It’s all very confusing.  The right says Obama is a socialist and that Wall Street doesn’t like him.  But how could that be?  Did they want quadrillions?  I mean… he’s been the best thing to happen to Wall Street in the history of Wall Street, and as far as his socialist tendencies… well, when is he going to start exhibiting them do you suppose?  Because so far, his decision-making would line up about perfectly with the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

It used to think it was strange, then funny, and now I’ve just come to realize it as being just plain dangerous.  It’s one thing to watch people in suits fighting on cable news shows, it’s quite another when segments of the population start identifying with their political beliefs more than they understand what it is to be an American citizen.

I seriously don’t even know what left and right means anymore.

Someone recently analogized that today’s politics is the new sports… and if that’s true, then maybe that’s what is missing… we need red and blue shirts and caps.

The problem is that we don’t decide to root for our home team, or the team of someone else’s home by thinking it through… I don’t like the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a careful examination of the facts, I like them because I grew up with them as my home team, and they won a lot when I was in high school, I suppose.  It’s not like it was a well thought out decision or even a choice… I just like them.

But when we start to feel about our political views and players, as we do about our sports heroes and teams, it means we stop “thinking” and start “feeling” one way or the other.  And one we form such feelings, just like my love for the Steelers even though its been some 30 years since I lived in Pittsburgh, we hold onto them for a long, long time… maybe even a lifetime.

And it may be just fine as long as everything’s going pretty well, I guess it’s okay… sit around and debate stuff like whether to fund stem cell research, or all prayer in schools, or how high a fence would need to be if it’s to stop illegal border crossings.

I guess that stuff doesn’t really matter all that much one way or the other.  But when we need to pull together in order to come out on top during World War II… well, that’s another matter.

When we need to win, we can’t be the political equivalent of the All-Star Game… we need to be a real team.  At times such as those, we need to be united we stand, and screw your views on school vouchers or whatever insignificant crap you’ve decided to align yourself with, we don’t have time for it now, and besides… you could be wrong… you’re not exactly a school voucher or public education expert, in fact you only adopted this way of thinking, chances are, because you like the way it was presented by someone you already liked on television or in the newspaper.  Okay, not always, but sometimes, right?

I have a theory, and you can laugh all you want but I think it’s OJ’s fault.

I think this Divide America movement all started with OJ Simpson back in 1995. Seriously, that’s when I think it started.  Stay with me for just a moment… and see what you think.

You see, as you undoubtedly recall, the OJ Simpson trial went on throughout the year 1995, and he was found not guilty on October 3rd of that year. The trial represented essentially free programming for quite a few cable stations and it was on 24/7, or at least it seemed like that to me. It brought all kinds of commentators out of prior obscurity. Talking heads almost seem to have been born as a result of the OJ Simpson trial… the trial, as they referred to it then, of the century.

Oh, I know talking heads were around before OJ to some degree. Crossfire was on before OJ, but it wasn’t like it is today. When OJ went off to play golf in Florida, a free man, the cable networks looked to have been left at the alter, and the people wanted more. A year later both Fox News and MSNBC were founded, it seemed, in response to people wanting more talking heads and their controversial and adversarial opinions. “People in suits fighting,” as a friend of mine phrased it at the time.

Who knows what would have happened to these fledgling networks next had they not received a gift that has never stopped giving: a certain blue dress. President William Jefferson Clinton’s indiscretions were ideal fodder for Fox News. He lied about it. There was a dress… DNA… lots of personalities… it was even better than the OJ trial… and there were talking heads popping up at a furious pace. After all, what kind of expertise did one really need to comment on that scandalous mess? A little righteous indignation more than covered it.

For example, Ann Coulter’s career was born from that blue dress. Greta Van Susteren came from OJ. Hannity… blue dress. O’Reilly… 1996… just in time for the blue dress. Oh, I know Rush was around much earlier, but he was an “entertainer” back then, not a political movement, remember?

Fox News changed the definition of “the news”. And competitors have been forced to react ever since. It’s for profit, 24 hour “news”. It’s not “the news” like we grew up with.

The news we grew up with was… well, often boring. Fox News… can’t be boring, any more than any other television drama can’t be boring. They went after an audience and captured it. MSNBC finally found a different niche, as CNN has struggled to figure out how to compete with such entertaining programming branded as “news” on both sides. It’s hard to make traditional news compete with dramatic entertainment packaged as news.

Fox News has been brilliant in their execution of their business plan. They’re shameless about it, which I suppose as a for profit business, they have every right to be. MSNBC had not done nearly as well until recently when they seem to have come to the realization that they have to play one side or the other in order to survive.

Fox News is something to behold. The level of coordination in their programming is absolutely incredible. The US Army should hope to be as in-sync as Fox News programming. It’s not just their commentators that are in alignment on essentially every single topic, but their “news” programs and special reports are right there as well. You can turn on Fox News 24 hours a day and here the same coordinated point of view. If the commercials were from the right, it’d be positively overwhelming.

MSNBC has laid claim to the left side of the debate. Chris Mathews and Keith Olbermann are clearly there to compete with Hannity and O’Reilly, and they’re doing so at least somewhat effectively, as I understand it. But on MSNBC, the rest of the day is somewhat straight… and somewhat dull as a result.

Fox News did something that really effectively drew the line in the sand. They framed the situation as being “them” versus “the liberal media”. Their point of view, or that of the liberal media. Today, if you hold a view contrary to that of Fox News, and you reference something from a newspaper, or from network news, or from NPR, or anywhere that’s not approved as “conservative,” then it’s simply hogwash from the liberal media, and to be completely disregarded by right thinking Americans.

And it’s worked very well. Try it. Disagree with a devotee of Fox News and count the seconds before your view is based on “democratic talking points” or your source is just part of “the liberal media”. Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven… I don’t think you’ll make it to twelve.  And the reverse is true for the MSNBC crowd.

If covering the Iraq War didn’t settle it, the coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign could not have made things clearer. Fox News went after Obama relentlessly… almost desperately toward the end. While Chris Matthews absolutely had a crush on Obama, and Olbermann decided that everything wrong in the world was Bush’s fault. It was embarrassing. Entertaining to many. But, embarrassing as news, just the same.

When Obama was declared the winner, the people on Fox seemed sad, like they had failed and lost the race, while MSNBC was clearly in ecstasy.

When Barack Obama became our president, quite a few people seemed to be wondering how the Obama presidency would go, and all I could think was: Really? Couldn’t we all see clearly how things would go? How else could they go? Fox News and MSNBC are for profit businesses competing with each other to capture their respective markets. How else would you expect them to behave? It was and is a fate accompli.

In case anyone is actually wondering how the Obama presidency will go, at least in the media, here’s a glimpse of 2011:

The Obama presidency says it has done some stuff. Fox News says it’s all bad and dismiss whatever the liberal media says about him. MSNBC will laud his accomplishments and sing his praises. Both will be a little bit right. Not everything will be prefect. Not everything will be bad. The conservative media will follow FNC’s lead. The liberal press will join in the MSNBC chorus. The boring media will be as boring as ever. Obama will win again in 2012… with 36% of the vote, a’la 1992.  There’ll be a mainstream Republican who will finish a close second, a Tea Party candidate that will get more votes than expected.  Ron Paul will make a showing.  And who knows… there could be a “liberal” challenger to Obama.  At the end of the day, the “right” if so fragmented that there simply won’t be anyone on the other side capable of galvanizing the troops in sufficient number.

No? Read it again. Of course that’s what’s going to happen. What else could possibly happen? It doesn’t matter what Obama does… that’s how it’s going to work out (unless, as I’ve said before, Obama gets caught on video having sexual relations with Bill Clinton under the desk in the Oval Office… in which case all bets are off).

There’s simply no other possible outcome.

Republicans, in order to raise money and win primaries have to somehow bring together the religious right with corporate America, and now wrap a Tea Party and Ron Paul’s brand of pragmatism in there as well.  It’s just not possible, as we saw in 2008.  John McCain had significant trouble just getting the support of his own party, even after he had the nomination entirely sewed up.

The Democrats fight among themselves too, but in presidential elections, they seem to do so in a debate over whether to have coffee or tea… both hot beverages with caffeine in them.  Like, Barack v. Hillary… politically, you could almost flip a coin, yet the Hillary fans and the Obama fans fought like Yankees playing Red Sox in the World Series… and never the two shall meet.

Now, perhaps as much as at anytime in our nation’s history, we need to come together in order to solve serious very serious problems.  Do we at least all see that?

Do we at least all now see that the financial lobby has amassed far too much political clout in our legislature, and that as long as their interests are driving all major legislation, they will block the essential reforms we need to recover and move ahead?  We simply cannot allow our nation’s laws to be motivated by Wall Street’s profits above all else.  Everyone can see that, right?  If not, stand by… it becomes more evident every day.

Emblematic of this, was the banking lobby’s resistance to a bill in New York this past year, that proposed to allow homeowners to recover attorney’s fees in the even they were victorious in a foreclosure related matter; the law already provided for the banks to receive attorney’s fees in the event that they prevailed.  In other words, the banks would get their attorney’s fees if they won, but this bill proposed that homeowners be allowed the same thing if they were to come out on top.  You know… basic fairness.

Yet, the banking lobby fought tooth and nail to stop the bill from passing and once it did, to stop the governor from signing it into law.  They opposed basic fairness… vehemently, I might add.  They are simply not a group we can allow to be the dominant political force in this country, and the only way that will change is if we become one country again.

We need to stop being two Americas. On one side, we need to stop acting out of fear, while on the other, we need to stop ignoring such fear; it is not without basis. We need to find some balance, but is that even possible anymore?

We know from whom we get our news. Is it from Fox News? If so, then I know your views on most everything. Is there anything that “the liberal media” could possibly report that would change your views about anything? No. Or do you get your news from MSNBC? In that case I don’t have to worry about telling a Bush joke, or bashing Republicans around you, right?

I don’t think there’s an answer, short of maybe another 9/11, that will see our nation come together again. I think Barack Obama thinks he must try to foster bipartisanism. But that won’t change the outcome. FNC simply won’t cover Obama’s success because doing so wouldn’t be profitable… and they are a for profit business whose purpose is to make a profit for its owners. No more than MSNBC is going to attack the Obama presidency, once again, no matter what.

But we’re not talking about the president sexual indiscretions this time around. We’re not playing around with a war that’s 6,250 miles away. No, what we’re facing is going to hit us right here at home… all of us on both sides of the aisle.  What we’re facing will not discriminate. None among us will emerge unscathed or unharmed.

I think it’s clear that Barack Obama will do whatever he’s going to do, right?  Is there really any chance of changing that?  And the banking lobby is going to do whatever they are going to do, right?  And the Republicans, now in control of the House, have already signaled where they plan to take things, and the same is true from the Tea Party, Ron Paul, everyone is playing their roles perfectly and predictably.  The die, as they say, has been cast.

The only wild card is “US”.  What will the people do?  Can we be counted on to just continue to vote with all the thought of a sports fan rooting for his or her team.  Will we continue to be influenced by the same sources of news we have in the past, or will more and more people start to realize that there’s real reason to set aside the politics of left and right, and start to speak out as to right and wrong.

The score at the bottom of the half is Bankers 99… People… 1.  But the second half is coming up soon, and there’s always the possibility that the People come out fighting and things do change.  It’s always possible that we will come to realize that our similarities are far more important than our differences.

If not, the outcomes seem all be preordained.

We reap what we sow, I suppose… we reap what we sow.

Mandelman out.

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