If only we could focus on our similarities

I came across a post-election cartoon in the 1952 Messenger recently (see page 6). It showed a donkey and an elephant shaking hands in a boxing ring. The caption: “Just Americans again.” The message is a good one after any election, but moreso after one that was as bitter, divisive and deceitful as the one that was just decided.
As I write this, the election hasn’t been held yet, so I have no idea who came out the winners or the losers, and right now, I’m thinking about how little it matters.
In fact, setting aside the cries of “fascism” from the left and “socialism” from the right, and other exaggerations on both sides, the reality is that the two parties have more in common than either likes to admit.
Take abortion: Republicans at the state and federal levels have had many opportunities to push legislation to restrict abortion, but they’ve done very little after 40 years of promises. Even with a conservative Supreme Court, it’s unlikely that Roe V. Wade will be overturned, because the justices know the social costs of doing so.
If abortion were illegal, women would continue to have abortions, but they would be unsafe and unregulated, and the penalties for women and providers would be too severe for most of us to stomach.
Those who want to end abortion would do better to put their energy into family planning and sex education. That’s the best way to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions worldwide, and Democrats have done a better job on that front than Republicans.
Now take the environment: Like the Republicans with abortion, Democrats have had many opportunities to propose, promote and pass legislation that would limit carbon pollution, yet they’ve been reluctant to do so. No matter who is in power, we continue to spew dangerous levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere because Americans’ highest priority is protecting short-term individual interests, not long-term global ones.
Obama has made small steps toward the post-oil economy, like increasing fuel-efficiency standards and investing in alternative energy, but it’s been too little, and it may be too late. He has expanded and encouraged oil development and has overseen a new oil boom that has us less dependent on foreign oil. Romney, if elected, would likely do the same, and as the effects of climate change become more obvious, even Romney and the Republicans will become reluctant environmentalists.
Now take the debt: Neither side is blameless when it comes to racking up debt and refusing to cut spending — It’s just that they have different priorities. Democrats focus on cutting defense and increasing taxes on the wealthy. Republicans want to cut so-called “entitlements” (Medicare and Social Security) and cut taxes for everyone (which results in either deficits or tax increases for the middle and lower classes).
Because Congress and state Legislatures are evenly divided, and certain obligations need to be met, and citizens want most of the services government currently provides, the debates over budgets are mostly hypocritical grandstanding.
No matter what the issue — defense, gun control, education, government reform, health care, transportation — the two parties are so close that they can smell each other’s halitosis.
But both parties, in their lust for power and relentless pursuit of campaign cash, accentuate their differences.
The media adds to the problem because they need a horse race, and the American public follows along in willful ignorance.
So thank God the election is over. Too bad the next one’s already started.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.


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