"In a Univision interview on Monday, the president, who campaigned in 2008 by referring not to a 'Red America' or a 'Blue America' but a United States of America, urged Hispanic listeners to vote in this spirit: 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.' "
Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen
They keep promising it to you.
They just won't give it to you.
Why? Because it's such an effective mobilization tool.
If they actually gave it to you after you gave them your vote, why, they couldn't use it anymore!
And they want to keep using it because they want to keep getting your vote.
So they keep promising it to you, speaking of it with fondness, nostalgically. For many, it is the holy grail, a relic from the past, a treasure to be pursued and, if ever captured, to be guarded.
It's like the proverbial carrot on a string ... always just out of reach. If the donkey ever gets it, he will no longer be motivated to pull the heavy wagon.
So the farmer makes sure he can't get to it.
What am I talking about?
A sense of common purpose. That all–for–one–and–one–for–all mentality that my parents and grandparents spoke of when they recalled the nation's approach to the Great Depression and World War II.
It was what made America great, I was frequently told as a child, this sense of a common cause.
My elders saw it in the way family and friends unhesitatingly opened their arms and their doors to the jobless and the homeless during hard times.
(Maybe there are some families — some parents, some siblings — and some friends who will do that today. Not many, in my experience.)
They saw it in the way people back home eagerly took on the most mundane of projects if it could contribute in even the smallest way to the national effort to win the war.
(How many real sacrifices have the folks on the home front been asked to make for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan?)
That's what Americans crave, more than anything else. At heart, they're an optimistic lot. They desire inclusion rather than exclusion.
They want to work together to solve problems.
I believe their instinct is to focus on the things they have in common, but, for a long time now, America's leaders — in both parties — have looked for ways to drive wedges between races, generations, genders, religious faiths, sexual orientations.
And, once they have found these hot–button differences, they have exploited them relentlessly. It is always done under the hypnotic guise of unity — but the intent is division.
Divide and conquer.
"Yes we can." — Barack Obama, 2008.
"A uniter, not a divider." — George W. Bush, 2000.
"United we stand." — Ross Perot, 1992.
Many bemoan the politics of negativism and outright demonization, and, while American politics has always had an element of that, I believe the modern model emerged in 1988, when the George H.W. Bush campaign shamelessly capitalized on racial fear with its infamous "Willie Horton commercials."
But I have also believed, for a long time, that it didn't begin there.
I believe the 1988 model had its roots in the polarizing politics of Richard Nixon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After the long, bitter, rancorous campaign of 1968 — the year that saw the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King — the president–elect appeared to try to reach out to a fragmented electorate with a tale from the campaign trail of spotting a teenager holding a sign that said, "Bring us together."
But Nixon won that election by cynically manipulating the electorate with his "Southern strategy" that used racial fear as a wedge issue. Nixon expanded on the theme in 1970 when he campaigned for fellow Republicans in the midterm elections, and many of the Republicans who followed him picked up the baton.
Its success in the South has been all too clear.
Thus, it was with considerable interest that I read an article in the Washington Post by two guys with impeccable Democratic credentials, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen.
Caddell is a pollster and consultant who had considerable influence within the Carter White House. His involvement in Democratic politics goes back nearly 40 years to the insurgent George McGovern campaign. After the Carter presidency, Caddell worked for Democratic hopefuls like Gary Hart, Joe Biden and Jerry Brown.
Schoen is a pollster and political analyst who has worked for many Democratic campaigns, including Hillary Clinton's 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In the Post, they marveled at "[w]hat a change two years can bring."
"President Obama's post–partisan America has disappeared," they write, "replaced by the politics of polarization, resentment and division."
They make a case with which it is hard to find fault.
Early on, they lament the disappearance of inclusion from the Obama White House.
"Obama is conducting himself in a way alarmingly reminiscent of Nixon's role in the disastrous 1970 midterm campaign," they write. "No president has been so persistently personal in his attacks as Obama throughout the fall."
And they make this remark that echoes what I have been thinking for more than 25 years — among " recent presidents," they write, only Nixon showed the "indifference to the majesty of his office" that Obama has shown.
We hoped for better than this, they write. "Instead, since taking office, [Obama] has pitted group against group for short–term political gain that is exacerbating the divisions in our country and weakening our national identity."
In the past, Caddell and Schoen have aligned themselves with the idealists. They'll have to get used to the notion that the idealists are no better than the ones they replaced.
An important first step is recognizing it.
It seems Caddell and Schoen already have taken that step.