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Michael Smerconish Headshot

A Cancer on the Body Politic

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I'm a 44 year-old Republican who has not missed an election since turning 18. Ronald Reagan was the first president for whom I voted, and I have voted for all Republican presidential candidates since that 1980 election.

This is not to say that I have voted only for the GOP. To the contrary, I have never pulled a straight party lever and have often voted for Democrats. Depending on who become the standard bearers in 2008, I could very well vote for one at the top of the ticket next time.

And I am no political neophyte.

I worked for Bush 41 while in college. I once ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature. I managed a significant portion of one of Senator Arlen Specter's re-election campaigns, and was political director of a Frank Rizzo bid to recapture City Hall. I have attended most of my party's national conventions in the last two decades, and have been intimately involved in several other campaigns on a local, state and national level.

At age 68, Ben Barnes is much older than me.

He's as much a Democrat as I have been a Republican, and he's got credentials I can't match.

Barnes was elected to the Texas State House at age 21. By age 26 he was elected Speaker of the Texas House. When just 30-years old, he was elected lieutenant governor, garnering the most votes of any statewide candidate in Texas history. He was a protégé of President Lyndon Johnson and a close ally of Governor John Connally.

Barnes is also the man who in the midst of the 2004 election, came forward and said that a friend of the Bush family asked him as Texas Speaker to recommend W for the Air National Guard, and that he did so. I talked to him this week about his new book, "Barn Burning, Barn Building". It turns out that despite our differences, we agree on something very important - we're both standing with the currently very unpopular President.

Don't get me wrong, he's still a partisan D who pines for his party retaking at least one house in the upcoming midterm election. But Barnes is an American before he is a Democrat, and he shares my concern about the current state of the nation.

"Today I am pulling for George Bush because George Bush is my president," said the man who went on 60 Minutes II and almost cost W his re-election. "And I don't know how he can go much lower in the polls and I don't know how our prestige abroad can get much lower. We've got to do everything we can to make this country strong and respected....I am not throwing any rocks at George Bush right now. What I am hoping for is that we can do something about our situation in Iraq, get our troops home, or certainly a large part of them, and do something about Iran and nuclear weapons. There are so many world problems today; it is just not a time to be partisan. We have a campaign this year but we all need to do what we can to support our government."

I'm pulling for W, too, and for the same non-partisan reasons.

Twice I cast a ballot for George W. Bush, the first time out of an allegiance to his father, for whom I once worked, the second because I believed him to be the better candidate to fight the war on terror.

He's disappointed me many times over, and I have said so.

When the Administration fought the creation of The 9/11 Commission, I disagreed both on the radio and in print. Where the Administration has failed to seal porous borders, I have spoken out. I was appalled by the attempt at federal intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo and have said so. And I have published not one but two books that criticize the Administration for failing to fight al Qaeda with an appreciation of the commonalities of those who seek to cut our throats with box cutters - I'm talking about race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and yes, appearance.

But, like Barnes, W remains my President, and I am more concerned about our country than at any point in my life. I'm not fearful of radical Islam. I know we can handle them if we unite, but I'm worried about our partisan differences at a time when the country is at war.

I told Barnes that I recently passed a woman in a major American airport who was wearing a "Buck Fush" t-shirt. (It's not that I'm a prude. Lord knows the thinly disguised word across her breasts is one that tumbles far too often from my lips.) But still, I thought to myself, has she no regard for the fact that our lives are at stake? Has she no decency?

"That makes me very sad," Barnes offered.

"I think the number one problem in America today is not that we have 140,000 in Iraq, or large debt, or gas prices, it is the bitter partisanship that has grabbed a hold of this country. It's not enough to beat someone in an election today; you have to destroy them personally."

"When I first went to Washington, the Democrats and the Republicans would fight like heck during the day but at night, they had dinner together, they socialized, they went to sporting events, they were friends. And their wives were friends. Everybody understood that civility needed to prevail. Today when you have a party in wash, you either have a party for republicans or Democrats. They don't eat at the same table and that is very sad."

A day after we conversed, I saw Ann Coulter on the Today Show. Matt Lauer read aloud a quote from her new book in which she says the following about certain 9/11 widows:
"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much."

That's disgusting. She's on the same level as the woman with the t-shirt. Unfortunately, this sort of American vs. American bickering is now the norm. To blame are R's and D's. Liberals and conservatives. Blacks and whites. It's become pervasive among those who set the agenda. Elected officials. Talking heads. The media.

I keep waiting for the equivalent of a domestic disturbance to occur on a national level. Ask a cop what kind of call he hates responding to, and chances are he will tell you quarrelling spouses, who inevitably turn on him when he arrives on the porch.

When is that going to happen here? When are we going to channel our energies against a common foe and ratchet down the hatriolic behavior toward one another at home?