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Joan E. Dowlin Headshot

The Vicious Cycle of Partisanship

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Some have said that the two party system is what makes us strong. They say it helps create a balance of power with one side keeping tabs on the other. I say it creates a never ending cycle of revenge. And that is a bad thing for our society.

It has been that way for as long as I can remember. When one party gains power in the Presidential election the other one starts attacking the U.S. leader right away even if they have no ammunition against him. They make it up. The first goal is to gain power back in the off year election and then try to force him (or in the possible future, her) to be a one term President.

If that doesn't work they try to force him out with some kind of scandal or impeachment (or both). The Democrats did that with the Watergate scandal which caused President Richard Nixon to resign in 1975. The Republicans never forgot that. They then painted President Carter as a weak leader (he helped them with that and also was a victim of a bad economy which he inherited from Nixon and Ford) and he lost re-election.

The Democrats tried to discredit President Ronald Reagan with hearings on the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was a popular leader who was dubbed "the Teflon man." Nothing stuck to him.

President George Bush the first was limited to one term by a bad economy even though he ran a successful war against Iraq (the First Gulf War). He was also tied to President Reagan's scandal as he was his VP.

Then along came the anomaly President Bill Clinton. The GOP jumped all over him from the beginning (mostly personal stuff) and in the process managed to regain both Houses of Congress in his second year of office in 1994.

Everyone assumed Clinton would be a one termer but he beat the odds by listening to the American people and working with Congress to enact a primarily conservative agenda: welfare reform, a lower crime rate with more police on the streets, reduced government spending, a balanced budget, and an actual surplus (how often has that happened?) You would think the GOP would be ecstatic to have so many of their goals accomplished. But what did he get from the Republicans for his efforts? Impeached. Seems they didn't want him to get the credit for their ideas. After all, he is a Democrat.

For years the GOP lawmakers went after President Clinton with investigations that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. White Water, Travelgate, Paula Jones, but nothing stuck until Monica Lewinski. Clinton's affair with a White House intern discredited him and his office and may have cost the Democrats and his VP Al Gore the 2000 Presidential election.

Which brings us to President George Bush the Second. The Democratic party was bullied for eight years by Bush who used the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks and two wars he started to retain power for his re-election in 2004. There may have been plenty of reasons for investigations in his second term: lying about weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq War, wire tapping American citizens, torturing prisoners in Gitmo, FEMA failing Hurricane Katrina victims, and a Justice Department scandal about firing personnel for political reasons. But the Dems were the minority party until 2006 and two years is too short to begin that process. Besides, they knew they would reap rewards in the next election with Bush's unpopularity.

Which brings us to the present administration, the first elected African American, President Barack Obama. He inherited an economic mess, two wars, and a battered American global image. He needs support from both sides of the aisle to try to clean all of this up and get us back on track. But does he get it?

What he gets are tea baggers protesting DC with chants of "socialist" and signs of him portrayed as Hitler, a conservative talk show host whom some have proclaimed as the ideological head of the GOP saying he hopes the President fails, and no co-operation from any Congressional Republicans for his recovery package and health care reform. It hasn't been a year yet and already we hear talk of a coup and threats of violence against him.

Partisan politics have gotten nastier than ever. The recent rejection by the Olympic Committee in Copenhagen, Denmark of President Obama's bid to have the 2016 Games come to Chicago, Illinois is an example of the vicious cycle of partisanship. Members of the GOP and tea party organizations are caught on tape cheering when they heard the news that the President's efforts had failed. Is this what we have become? American citizens rejoicing over failure to bring home an event that would have bolstered our country and economy?

This vicious cycle works both ways. The supposedly unbiased cable news channel CNN interrupted a discussion recently with Arianna Huffington on the War in Afghanistan to bring "Breaking News" about Rush Limbaugh losing his bid to become part owner of the St. Louis Rams football team. This is "Breaking News"? Who cares? I later watched Ed Schultz of MSNBC delight in Limbaugh's rejection. Can't we support our President without gloating at the opposition's misfortunes?

I witnessed a similar phenomenon during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Hurricane Gustav was headed towards New Orleans on the first day of the Republican National Convention causing them to have to cancel the opening events. Some Democrats including movie producer Michael Moore couldn't contain their glee, declaring "there is a God in Heaven."

This is despicable behavior. Is your need for revenge greater than your desire for safety of the American people? Since when is a deadly hurricane a cause for joy?

It is no wonder that the American public is fed up with both parties. We citizens get caught in the cross hairs. Millions are spent to gain or retain power only to have that power used for exacting revenge on the opposing party. What gets lost is climate change, health care reform, immigration reform, economic reform, regulation of greedy bankers and mortgage lenders, ending the wars and all of the issues that affect the American taxpayer who foots the bill for these witch hunts and investigations.

You may say, well, if someone, no matter how high up in the government, breaks the law they should be investigated and prosecuted. Fair enough. But too often these inquiries become fishing expeditions. Just ask former Governor Sarah Palin. The Democrats sent a bus load of lawyers to invade Alaska once she was picked as the Republican VP nominee in 2008. She later cited these constant, expensive litigations as a reason to resign this past year.

Right now our country is in crisis, domestically and globally. We are fighting a recession and two wars. Let's put aside the partisan nonsense for now. Remember how we all came together after 9/11 if only for a brief period of time? These problems we face are as potentially damaging as the terrorist attacks were. We need to work together to solve them. President Obama has called for civility both here and abroad. Let us answer his call. It is still true that "united we stand, divided we fall." And we have been divided as a nation for far too long.