Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
So much for our new era of national unity.
When Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in Arizona, the pundits and political class predicted that it might be a turning point in political dialogue, ushering in a new era of civility. That lasted almost a week.
But that was comparatively impressive: the killing of mass murderer Osama bin Laden on Sunday May 1 sparked pronouncements from talking heads about Americans being united again in a cathartic event.
That lasted about a day. Or less.
Can we enter the brevity of that national unity in the Guinness Book of World Records?
The sharp polarization and outright joy many Americans experience when badmouthing the party they don’t belong to and making unfounded accusations was nowhere more evident than on talk radio shows. I know because Sunday May 1 through Wednesday May 3 I drove roundtrip from San Diego, CA to Pinole, CA and monitored local and national AM talk radio for 19 hours.
Donald Trump: can I borrow your straight jacket?
It would be harder for the CIA to find liberal talk shows than bin Laden, but some do exist. Liberal talkers invariably did verbal high fives about the fact a Democratic President caught bin Laden, virtually rubbing it in the faces of Republicans that “their” President caught bin Laden.
In Conservative Talkland, hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage initially acknowledged and praised Obama’s role. But by Tuesday most conservative talk show hosts and callers were insinuating that the non-release of the bin Laden photos and changing White House accounts of the killing meant the government was lying, Obama staged it to boost his poll numbers and that congratulations really belonged to George Bush. Bin Laden’s timely exit became a mere side issue.
Republican bigwigs maintained the drumbeat. The New York Daily News reported that George W. Bush was more POUT-US than POTUS, turning down going with Obama to Ground Zero because he felt he Obama hadn’t given his administration enough credit. Several GOPers suggested their administration’s info really turned the tide and, man, oh, man didn’t that water boarding pay off. Experts strongly disagreed.
Any day now you expect former Bush administration officials to say that if Obama got bin Laden in Abbottabad well, then, they spotted him first in Costelloabadd.
The truth? If you compare Bush’s reaction to reports of bin Laden in Tora Bora and Obama’s response to more uncertain info that bin Laden was holed up in a neighborhood in Pakistan, when the “3 o’clock in the morning call” came Bush overslept and Obama responded.
Sociologist Philip Slater argues that polarization is an international phenomenon involving a clash between “the control culture” and “the connecting culture.” In the U.S. profit spurs it on. Our 24/7 news cycle reaps millions for those generating and packaging partisan hate and controversy. Many cable networks only set up left and right debates and totally ignore the center. A Pew Research poll now finds independent voters free of party but not of ideology and less moderate.
Today, in news, talk shows and politics, if it bleeds it leads, if it’s rage it gets minutes or the front page. And if it divides it richly provides.
The lingering unity after World War II’s end or 911 would be elusive today. Weeks are down to days. Can the United States be unified again?
Yes. Despite arguments by some Republicans that Obama blew it by killing bin Laden an NBC poll found 80 percent agreeing with Obama’s decision and only 11 percent disagreeing. Two thirds agreed with Obama’s decision on the photos. The Daily Beast’s John Avlon notes demonizing conservative radio talk shows’ ratings are declining. Meanwhile, both political parties’ establishments seem more anxious to compromise than their zero-sum-take-all ideologue bases.
And that is hope you can believe in.
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org and can be booked to speak at your event atwww.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.