2010-04-23 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

A Half-Dozen Americas?
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

In his recent presidential bid, now disgraced former Democratic Senator John Edwards campaigned on a theme of “two Americas,” arguing that the nation was divided between the haves and have-nots. Although Edwards’ candidacy fell victim to the rising star of Barack Obama and to a budding scandal that would rock his marriage and personal reputation, the narrative he ran on remains a potent one in the American psyche and one that is potentially deeply divisive. Proponents of the view that the American government should take an active role in redistributing national wealth includes those in power in Washington today. The president, himself, famously told a voter in Ohio, who soon became famous as “Joe the Plumber” that sharing the wealth was a good thing for the country. Other Democrats, now controlling Congress, have pressed the same case, most recently by enacting the president’s healthcare reform despite the opposition of the majority of polled voters.

Public discontent at what many take to be governmental high-handedness in disregarding voter opinions has become increasingly evident and with it has come an increase in expressions of public anger. Such anger can’t be a good thing. Back in December 2008, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece quoting a Russian professor and former Soviet-era analyst, Igor Panarin, concerning America’s future. The professor had made something of a reputation for himself by predicting the break-up of the United States by 2010 as a result of what he foresaw as increasing internal economic and political conflict within America. Russia, China and various other states, Panarin suggested, would pick up the pieces. Wishful thinking?

“There’s a 55-45% chance right now that disintegration will occur,” Panarin is quoted as saying in that piece, adding that “One could rejoice in the process. But, if we’re talking reasonably, it’s not the best scenario — for Russia.” The Journal reporter explained that, in Panarin’s view, the coming instability could be problematic for Russia in the short term though he believed it would hasten Russia’s restoration as a reborn global powerhouse.

The United States, in his scenario, would devolve into several considerably smaller regional nations, centered around California in the west (to be dominated by China), Texas in the south/southwest (with the states between Texas and today’s California likely being reabsorbed by Mexico, from which they were wrested by the U.S. in the Mexican War). The professor also predicted an “Atlantic America,“ including New York and the New England states which would eventually join the European Union with Canada dominating or taking outright control of the remaining north central states. More far-flung American states like Hawaii and Alaska would become foreign protectorates, under either Japan or China in Hawaii’s case, and under Russia in the case of Alaska which, Panarin argued, was only leased to the United States by Czarist Russia in any case — not sold.

Americans, Panarin told the Journal, were hoping that then Presidentelect Barack Obama would “work miracles (but) when spring comes,” he warned, “it will be clear there are no miracles.” Two springs later and we’re in the midst of Panarin’s fateful 2010 with the conditions of our political discourse growing increasingly strident. Public disaffection with a Democratic Congress that rammed through legislation the majority of voters didn’t want has produced angry town hall meetings, a Tea Party revolt and unprecedented partisan division in the halls of Congress. Despite grassroots voter resistance and off-year Republican electoral wins billed as referenda on Democratic policies, including healthcare, despite the surprising Scott Brown upset Senate victory in Massachusetts, Democrats in Congress chose to double down and force through a bill they wanted but that, arguably, a majority of Americans did not.

To get the bill through and solidify wavering support among Democratic legislators fearing a voter backlash as occurred in the Clinton years, President Obama assured Democratic doubters that this time would be different because, he noted, “you have me.” In the wake of the resultant health care “success,“ the president and his allies have already moved into high gear.

As some of us recall, liberals routinely slammed and verbally assaulted George W. Bush for eight years, a practice the mainstream media seemed to find perfectly legitimate and even laudable as an exercise of political liberty. But conservative Tea Party protests are now seen as a different story while a recent attack on a female political fundraiser and her boyfriend as they left a conservative gathering in New Orleans, resulting in multiple leg fractures for the woman and a smashed face for the man, suggests that our partisan passions may finally be getting out of hand.

Professor Panarin’s prediction looked remarkably silly in 2008 but in this crucial year of 2010, it’s hard to remain indifferent to it. The Democrats’ decision to pass legislation opposed by most Americans, according to every poll and in the face of a series of electoral repudiations, inspired a wave of voter anger across the country which has, in its turn, spawned attacks by politicians and media types on the angry voters themselves. While concerns about this kind of growing partisan bitterness in American politics fell on deaf media ears in the Bush years they are suddenly part of the intense media coverage and an expression of increasing Democratic “outrage.“ But such uneven treatment, lauding those who demeaned and insulted Bush while condemning those now angry with Obama, only serves to sustain the sense of grievance many conservatives still retain from the Bush years.

But grievance leads to grievance. There can be no doubt there have been excesses on both sides. Ill considered signs depicting President Obama in a demeaning light have shown up in clips of some Tea Party rallies. A conservative voter I know recently suggested that the Obama administration is moving toward abrogating future elections — the same sort of alarmist predictions unjustly made by left wing critics of former president George W. Bush.

This kind of rhetoric only serves to raise the public temperature while providing justification to some on the fringe to act out in potentially dangerous ways. Allowing our political rhetoric to reach such a fever pitch contributes, finally, to the growing fault lines in this country that make predictions by people like Panarin look less and less incredible. It’s time Americans stepped back and took a collective breath, time we remembered that there’s more to running a democracy than just seeing who gets his way in Washington. After all, we live in a nation where there’s always another election just around the corner where those of us who are really pissed off can have our say.

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