We are hardly a nation divided

October 31, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

In the office here, we have strong Democrats and strong Republicans. Shockingly, there have been no fistfights between the two. They work together, eat lunch together, go to parties together and are far more likely to engage in a heated discussion about the Redskins and Cowboys than they are over gay marriage.

They may say they "hate" John Kerry or George Bush, but no matter who wins on Tuesday, they will all show up for work the next day and, when the dust settles, life will go along pretty much as it has for days, months and years.

I suspect your office, school or retirement community is pretty much the same. So before you buy into all this hand-wringing bunk about us being a nation divided, look around and check out reality. Because the truth is, never in our history has our country been more alike.

Where else in the world can you fly 3,000 miles through three time zones and step off the plane to find that, outside of eating a few more avocados than you're used to, the people are basically the same.


That we have enough free time on our hands to vociferously disagree over something as, when you get right down to it, frivolous as gay marriage is a signal that we are not divided, but bored.

Go back to the mine wars in Matewan and tell a coal miner with blood streaming down his face that nearly a century hence one of our more polarizing events would be a the flash of a bare breast during a sporting event halftime show and he would probably bury his pick in your skull just to put you out of your insane, incoherent misery.

Real, meaningful division manifests itself in violence. Sudan is divided. The Hutus and Tutsis are divided. Arabs and Israelis are divided. Americans, by contrast, are joined at the lips.

No longer are blacks being hanged. No longer are students dying on campus. Union leaders are not being shot by company goons, revolutionaries are not sniping at Tories, races are not rioting in the streets, individualists are not being blackballed as communist sympathizers and brother is not fighting against brother.

It's estimated that only 4 percent of the public will ever be moved enough to do something totally radical, which today amounts to writing a letter to the editor or calling a radio talk show. Woo-boy, that is telling them.

The simplistic red-state, blue-state nonsense gets ink because it's a statistic and statistics - unlike health care, or anything meaningful - are easy to report. But this red and blue herring doesn't mean a thing. It would, if people in a red state were 100 percent different from people in a blue state, but who is going to argue that with a straight face? Put a guy from Wyoming in a room with a guy from Illinois and do you really think they're going to end up trading blows over federal taxation policy? No, they are going to talk about their jobs, their families, the World Series, food or the weather. One may vote Democrat and the other Republican. So? A difference of opinion does not make us divided - heavens, how many husbands and wives do you know who routinely cancel out each others' vote at the polls, but still coexist passably enough?

If America is divided, it is probably more along the lines of 80-20 than 50-50. You may have 10 percent on either side of the political spectrum who are passionate and angry, but the great majority in the middle are too busy living their lives and dealing with daily personal issues to bother rending their garments over prayer in school or the Alaskan wildlife refuge. They may care one way or the other, but it's not what drives them. In the end, it's as Bill Murray said in "Meatballs:" It Just Doesn't Matter.

What political divisions we have are primarily artificial creations of politicians or quasi politicians themselves, not of the people. Congressional boundaries have been so cunningly drawn to protect the congressmen that all but about 40 of the 535 seats are a lock to all but perpetually stay under the control of the party they are now. This isn't division, this is the artificial lumping of like-minded people into predetermined boundaries.

The other artificial creation that makes us appear more divided than we are is brought to us by the people who profit from the perceived division, namely the entertainment business that passes itself off as media. Heck, even Rush Limbaugh never appeared to care much about politics one way or the other until he determined there was money in it.

And the nuclear jawing on the cable television "news" programs? Please. It's all superfluous and it's all an act. The two guys who spend a half hour screaming at each other go out for cocktails after the cameras are off, and I guarantee you, they are not "divided," they are more alike than Smith and Wesson.

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