I can remember times in our recent past when it seemed that our country was coming apart at the seams. The years of demonstrations, sometimes violent, related to the struggle for civil rights, tore at the very fabric of our nation. The Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 brought into focus the great gulf that existed in this country regarding the Vietnam War. It is a fact that we have a long history of struggle by one group or another for what it perceived as justice and equal rights. During all of those tumultuous years it felt as though this country was incredibly polarized. The term “generation gap” was an effort to explain the cultural and social upheaval that seemed to be overtaking our nation. It was reflected in our music, our clothing, our language, our entertainment and our politics. But most importantly, it was based on a set of principles that created the underpinning for that political and civil action. Certainly there was disagreement regarding the methods utilized to achieve success. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the contrast between the tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers. Yet, while the tactics were different, the goals of social justice were the same. The principle was the same. The most important fact about those years is that the actions taken by those in power, whether we agreed with them or not, were based on principle and long-held beliefs.
There is no doubt that America is again incredibly polarized today. There is major disagreement on gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, health care, America’s role in the world, economic policy, taxation and an endless list of additional issues. Yet, this is nothing new. The right to disagree and debate is fundamental to what is America. It is what distinguishes us from countries around the world. It is what illuminates that “beacon of freedom”. Why then does it feel so different from the struggles of the past? This isn’t to say that the battles of the 60s and 70s were joyous. People on both sides put their bodies and souls into those battles. But what was different is that it felt as though the fight was “for” something, not just “against” everything. On the one hand there were those trying to press for change, while on the other hand there were those fighting against change. What is important here is that on both sides the actions were perceived as affirmative, not negative. On one side change was perceived as good, while on the other side the status quo was perceived as good. Neither side was against the other just for the sake of saying “no”. The GOP has turned this behavior on its head. It has become clear that in the Congress of the United States of America during the past nearly six years the GOP is saying “no” to everything. They have adopted the value of political expediency, voting “no” on issues they would have supported under a GOP President, just because Obama wants them to vote “yes”. What is amazing here is that they are saying “no” to issues on which there is a positive consensus among Americans of all political stripes such as gun control and immigration. They are also saying “no” to issues that impact on individual economic security such as unemployment insurance and minimum wage increases. Finally, they have shut down the government, and are threatening to do it again, just to guarantee non-action.
Certainly, the behavior of the GOP is playing to its base and seems designed to be politically expedient. To actually debate the issues facing the Congress might bring into focus some of the fissures that surely exist within the party. While it has behaved monolithically , as demanded by the leadership, there are surely differing opinions within this group. However, it is most expedient, according the to leadership, for the Party to be the “party of no” to score the points necessary to win the midterms and in their dreams in 2016. Principles and values are of no importance to the GOP. Even if their inaction hurts Americans, in their mind, the means justify the ends. Where have we heard that before? If Democratic inaction at the polls allows them to win the Senate and increase their majority in the House in the midterms, be afraid, be very afraid.