We spent several days visiting friends in Burlington, VT – the fourth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, a state where it’s common for employers to pay their workers for taking time off to help others in their community less fortunate, a state where billboard signs are illegal because they mar the view of the landscape, a state where one of their senators is a socialist and the other is a liberal Democrat. It is a living example of the potential for progressive government.
Driving home we heard the news about uncontained brush fires within a mile south of our house that were threatening eastern Long Island. We also heard of Santorum’s decision to pull out of the race for the Republican Party nomination for president… presumably setting up a head to head battle between Romney and Obama, but not before lighting multiple political brush fires under the conservative base by opposing women’s and worker’s rights, proposing bans on gay marriage, gays in the military, all forms of contraception, all stages of abortion regardless of the circumstances, pornography and government-mandated health care to name a few.
The thought occurred to me that the polarization in the U.S. has rarely been more acute. We seem to be living in two separate countries. The radical right has pushed the Republican Party so far beyond the usual conservative agenda that there is virtually no hope for bipartisan governing and they’ve even abandoned all pretense of even striving for it. Somehow, it’s ok to base their entire platform on the singular goal of defeating Barack Obama despite the fact that many of his policies are recycled Republican ideas. The Republican strategy since the 2008 elections has been total obstruction of any functional governing in order to create paralysis and then blame the Democrats. The radical right is seizing the opportunity to declare war on both workers and on women and is attempting to turn back the clock on progressive reforms that have been won over the course of a century of struggle. Their slim majority on the Supreme Court is disregarding legal precedent to allow billionaires to buy elections and is threatening to overturn even the most watered down but important first step towards universal health care.
Of course, our democracy has weathered and survived numerous serious divisive challenges over the years – times in which progressives were told to love it or leave it, blacklisted, beaten, jailed or even killed fighting for equality, peace, justice or human rights. After all, nothing could be more divisive than a civil war. So I shouldn’t be surprised by the most recent incarnation of polarizing politics of 2012 but still can’t but help but wonder if there is a tipping point.