Monday, June 20, 2005

Question Five: Why are We So Divided?

The fifth question in our debate series on the war in Iraq and the War on Terror is:

While 9/11 brought us together, why has what come after so divided us? Is anyone to blame for this or was it inevitable?

I think it’s too easy to blame the divisiveness just on Bush’s perceived arrogance or the left’s perceived knee-jerk opposition. We’ve gone over those thoughts in the opinions on the first four questions. I would be interested to hear if people feel it goes deeper than that or if there are other pieces to the problem.



Question One: Why did we invade Iraq?

Question Two: Has the Iraq war set any precedents?

Question Three: Are we safer?

Question Four: Why do some think America is the enemy?

14 Comments:

At 3:17 PM, Blogger EG said...

I did some research and found a Iraq war timeline with specific events. I then found a poll and placed the poll results over the timeline.

At the outset of the war (April 2003), 73% of Americans supported the administration. Given all the protests involving the war, that is a very high number, indeed.

By May 2004, the approval had dropped to 50% and today sits at 41% approval. What occurred in Iraq during April 2003 and May 2004?

1. President Bush declares an end to major combat operations.
2. Iraq's interim governing council, composed of 25 Iraqis appointed by American and British officials, is inaugurated.
3. Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, die in firefight in a Mosul palace.
4. Suicide bombing destroys UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 24.
5. Four coordinated suicide attacks in Baghdad kill 43 and wound more than 200. Insurgents increasingly victimize civilians, Iraqi security forces, and aid agencies, not simply U.S. troops.
6. The Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating the total cost to occupy Iraq from 2004 through 2013 at between $85 billion and $200 billion, depending on how many American soldiers are needed and how soon they can leave Iraq.
7. Iraqi guerrillas shoot down an American helicopter, killing 16 U.S. soldiers and injuring 21 others.
8. Saddam Hussein is captured by U.S. troops.
9. David Kay, the former head of the U.S. weapons inspection teams in Iraq, informs a senate committee that no WMD have been found in Iraq and that prewar intelligence was “almost all wrong” about Saddam Hussein's arsenal.
10. Iraqi mob kills and mutilates four American civilian contract workers and drags them through the streets of Falluja.
11. Hostage-taking becomes a regular tactic of the insurgents.
12. Abu Ghraib.

Not all twelve of these events lowered the war's approval rating. Nor are any of these events an indictment against our troops. However, given the 2003 estimates from the DoD officials (100K troops max, Iraqi oil financing for costs, short duration of war, other nations helping in reconstruction), it surprising the approval is 40%.

 
At 3:52 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

There is obviously not one answer to this question. But first and foremost, I do not think it was inevitable. Nothing that involves human choice is inevitable. But it was likely.

In broad terms, I think 9/11 was the exception to the trend of American politics. The 2000 election ended on incredibly divisive terms with people literally in the streets protesting the recounts or lack thereof. But even that was just a continuation of decades of politics played as sport.

The left and right have been at each other since about the time the modern concept of left and right arose along with the labor movements in the latter 19th century. The issues have changed but the general feeling of animosity has remained at various stages of agitation. This clash can best be described as liberals fighting to unshackle the masses from perceived social/governmental restraints and the right fighting to preserve some semblance of perceived tradition and recognized values.(That's oversimplification but it'll work.)

I think after Vietnam, there were very few issues for leftists or rightists to organize the moderate masses around. So the two sides played out their animosities in issues like abortion, nuclear proliferation, prayer in school, welfare and the 2000 election. Most Americans stayed out of the heated parts of these conflicts although they did take sides. And, overtime, issues were separated into the liberal or conservative camp and each became more ideological and insular.

That set us up for Iraq. I don't think either side performed well in the lead up to war. I think the moment the issue revealed itself to be potentially divisive, both sides impulsively turned the potential of war into another political standoff. As with Florida in 2000 and as with all the other conflicts, neither side had much interest in listening to what the other side had to say. Everyone from the President on down dug their feet in and played war like politics.

There was staggerinly little debate in the Senate about this war and their was staggeringly little balanced reporting by the media. Yes, the media portrayed both sides but the media didn't seem interested in offering much more than the talking points.

And I think it's still going on. I think most of us and most of the media are still trying to fit this war into the prexisting political paradigms. And, just to be clear, centrists are no better. The Yellow Line is no better. It's not like any of us can throw a switch and get out of our mindsets.

But let me say this--100 years ago there was still a very real threat that workers (the left) in America would rise up in violence and the business class (the right) still actively oppressed workers through cruel working conditions. Nowadays the left and right mainly defame each other on TV and in blogs. So, it's been worse and we survived. We'll get through this too.

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 4:20 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Alan,

Although you said Bush's arrogance wasn't a real talking point in this debate, I do believe his refusal to budge an inch plays a huge part. Most presidents before were willing to make sometimes small, sometimes large concessions to get the process of government moving. Bush is of a mindset that backing down one iota is a show of weakness. Diplomacy be damned.

You also mentioned that neither the right or left listen to each other. I honestly don't believe that. When Bush was making the argument for war, the left listened to (and believed) Bush when he told them there was irrefutable proof that Saddam was developing and amassing WMDs. That's why the vast majority signed on. During the Clinton administration, even during the eight-year long witch hunt by the Right, there were several Republicans who came to the bargaining table and both sides listened to each other and progress was made on several issues.

So, I'm not sure I would blame our division on Bush's arrogance; I think we can put a little weight behind his inflexibility.

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Well, Bush's arrogance can certainly be a talking point--I just meant I felt we had covered that and was wondering if we could go deeper.

Also, to clarify my earlier post, many people listen to each other. It's on the ends we find the groups more concerned with advancy their reality than hearing someone else's (I think).

As anyone who reads what I write knows, I love grand ideas but not absolutes. No grand idea applies absolutely and every person is their own person and not in the thrall of some grand idea. And yet, grand ideas are great points to jump from.

I also think opposition to the Iraq war goes far beyond simple left/right divides. But I was more or less answering the "why so divisive" question more than "why are people opposed." I think one can be strongly opposed to or strongly in support of something without being divisive (which everyone on this debate series is proving, I think).

 
At 6:17 PM, Blogger Robert Rouse said...

Point taken. As you well know, I believe there is something more to all the Downing Street documents than Bush is owning up to. That said, I don't really want to see him impeached. If anything, two Presidents impeached back-to-back would look horrible to future historians.

All I want are answers and if an investigation exonerates Bush, so be it.

Yes, there is a difference between division and debate. And there are times I like a good debate even if I have to play the devil's advocate to get one. (I had a really evil grin as I typed that)

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said...

This question has circled my mind day after day, month after month. Today I was listening to NPR: They were interviewing an evangelical, politically conservative minister and a more moderate minister. The evangelical minister said one thing that really made me stop to think. He said that when he tries to collaberate with liberals, the topic of abortion inevitably comes up early on, and when he hears their pro-choice views, he immediately questions their morality. That was fascinating to me because when I hear pro-Iraq war perspectives, I immediately lose respect for the speaker. In both cases it involves a deep conviction about the value of innocent human lives.

He said something else that was very interesting to me. He has a hierarchy of moral values that he uses to determine what is most important. For him, abortion and homosexuality are so immoral, he feels that our government must deal with these issues before it deals with social issues.

So from his perspective, Democrats are immoral and Republicans are on the side of God. If the Republican leaders want war and the Democrats don't want war, clearly the Republicans are in the right.

His views are black and white, and there is no room for Democrats to enter into the discussion. We scream louder and louder in an effort to be heard, but we never will be heard because evangelical Christians will not listen to Democrats because they see us as immoral.

The more we are ignored and ridiculed by conservatives, the more angry we become. As psychologists will tell you, nobody listens when they are angry.

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

Some people have talked about the media as part of what is dividing the country into two camps. The great diversity in news outlets that we've had over the last 20 years or so has certainly led to a fracturing in programming style. And it has contributed in significant ways to the undermining of 'old school' reporting. There seems to be less pressure to present just the facts, and to make sure those 'facts' are true. And there seems to be more pandering to sensational news and 'infotainment,' which often drowns out the serious and important issues.

But we've been there before, in the media. Back in the day, with muckrakers and yellow journalism, Walter Winchell's gossip 'news,' and multiple biased and competing newspapers in every city, there's nothing we haven't seen before, and a lot worse that hasn't come back.

I think the recent rise in divisiveness owes something to the current state of 'news' reporting. But I think the underlying cause is more directly related to how we choose our leaders ... the democratic process itself. We've simply become much more sophisticated at gerrymandering districts in favor of a political party or an incumbent.

Unfortunately, this is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. Only a handful of states require a non-partisan commission to draw the districts. And the trend has been to design districts that are 'safe' for a political party, so that there is less chance for moderates to be elected.

There is also less chance of getting Senators and Presidents elected that represent the entire country, due to the power of the two-party system. John McCain is one example ... his candidacy was much more palpable to the entire country - I would argue - but Bush was more conservative, and won in the primary. So we had two extremes running for election, and moderates, who tend to favor compromise and cooperation, didn't have a choice.

So we generally have to vote between two ideologues, and pick the one that is better at pretending to be moderate, or vote for a representative who doesn't even have to affect a moderate voice to get elected.

 
At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Frank Giger said...

We've lost the "loyal opposition."

When President Clinton beat President Bush ('41) without a majority (or plurality, exchange as appropriate), Republicans did not cry foul and refuse to acknowlege President Clinton as being "illegitimate." When President Clinton beat Senator Dole, Republicans did not immediately question his "mandate."

Yet the rhetoric from Democrats during the 2000 election never waned (we were going back to Jim Crowe laws, etc.), and even after the rather resounding 2004 election, they still refuse to acknowledge - or, at a minimum, distance themselves from those that refuse to acknowledge - the President is indeed the legitimate Chief Executive.

Republicans are faced with an opposition that isn't a "loyal" one; that is to say, that is putting the needs of the country ahead of the partisanship, and a willingness to compromise for fear of appearing to "go over to the other side" and helping Republicans.

Whether it's fillibuster in judicial committee (which is new - it's never been done before for a nomination to a court; the oft cited example was for position within a court, not to the court itself), or the endless request for documents on Bolton (with no end in sight), there is little incentive for Republicans to even try to reach compromise.

My only hope is that Republicans can get five more Senators, which will force Democrats to reason rather than obstruct simply because they can.

 
At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Frank G said...

We've lost the "loyal opposition."

When President Clinton beat President Bush ('41) without a majority (or plurality, exchange as appropriate), Republicans did not cry foul and refuse to acknowlege President Clinton as being "illegitimate." When President Clinton beat Senator Dole, Republicans did not immediately question his "mandate."

Yet the rhetoric from Democrats during the 2000 election never waned (we were going back to Jim Crowe laws, etc.), and even after the rather resounding 2004 election, they still refuse to acknowledge - or, at a minimum, distance themselves from those that refuse to acknowledge - the President is indeed the legitimate Chief Executive.

Republicans are faced with an opposition that isn't a "loyal" one; that is to say, that is putting the needs of the country ahead of the partisanship, and a willingness to compromise for fear of appearing to "go over to the other side" and helping Republicans.

Whether it's fillibuster in judicial committee (which is new - it's never been done before for a nomination to a court; the oft cited example was for position within a court, not to the court itself), or the endless request for documents on Bolton (with no end in sight), there is little incentive for Republicans to even try to reach compromise.

My only hope is that Republicans can get five more Senators, which will force Democrats to reason rather than obstruct simply because they can.

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Frank G said...

We've lost the "loyal opposition."

When President Clinton beat President Bush ('41) without a majority (or plurality, exchange as appropriate), Republicans did not cry foul and refuse to acknowlege President Clinton as being "illegitimate." When President Clinton beat Senator Dole, Republicans did not immediately question his "mandate."

Yet the rhetoric from Democrats during the 2000 election never waned (we were going back to Jim Crowe laws, etc.), and even after the rather resounding 2004 election, they still refuse to acknowledge - or, at a minimum, distance themselves from those that refuse to acknowledge - the President is indeed the legitimate Chief Executive.

Republicans are faced with an opposition that isn't a "loyal" one; that is to say, that is putting the needs of the country ahead of the partisanship, and a willingness to compromise for fear of appearing to "go over to the other side" and helping Republicans.

Whether it's fillibuster in judicial committee (which is new - it's never been done before for a nomination to a court; the oft cited example was for position within a court, not to the court itself), or the endless request for documents on Bolton (with no end in sight), there is little incentive for Republicans to even try to reach compromise.

My only hope is that Republicans can get five more Senators, which will force Democrats to reason rather than obstruct simply because they can.

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Frank G said...

We've lost the "loyal opposition."

When President Clinton beat President Bush ('41) without a majority (or plurality, exchange as appropriate), Republicans did not cry foul and refuse to acknowlege President Clinton as being "illegitimate." When President Clinton beat Senator Dole, Republicans did not immediately question his "mandate."

Yet the rhetoric from Democrats during the 2000 election never waned (we were going back to Jim Crowe laws, etc.), and even after the rather resounding 2004 election, they still refuse to acknowledge - or, at a minimum, distance themselves from those that refuse to acknowledge - the President is indeed the legitimate Chief Executive.

Republicans are faced with an opposition that isn't a "loyal" one; that is to say, that is putting the needs of the country ahead of the partisanship, and a willingness to compromise for fear of appearing to "go over to the other side" and helping Republicans.

Whether it's fillibuster in judicial committee (which is new - it's never been done before for a nomination to a court; the oft cited example was for position within a court, not to the court itself), or the endless request for documents on Bolton (with no end in sight), there is little incentive for Republicans to even try to reach compromise.

My only hope is that Republicans can get five more Senators, which will force Democrats to reason rather than obstruct simply because they can.

 
At 1:51 AM, Blogger Ted Carmichael said...

frank g ... I think you've got your terms mixed up. Clinton's appointments often did not get an up-or-down vote because they were blocked in committee. A filibuster involves the entire Senate, and it takes 60 votes to end debate on any issue. If an appointment is "blocked in committee," then it doesn't reach the Senate floor.

 
At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Nicolai said...

For anyone curious, in response to the first poster, here's a timeline of events.

 

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