GOP Back on the Polarization Trail

GOP Back on the Polarization Trail

By Froma Harrop - September 11, 2008

"We grow good people all across America, with honesty, sincerity and dignity." No, Sarah Palin didn't say that. She said, "We grow good people in our small towns" and listed the above virtues.

Her speechwriter's strategy is clear -- to revive the "us" versus "them" storyline for the conservative base. "Us" is good rural, small-town folk and "them" is the dissipated urban elites, mostly domiciled on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

You'd never know from the recent Republican convention that America was about to remember the terrorist attack on New York, when 411 city firefighters, police and medical personnel died trying to save people they had never met.

Instead it was like old times on the George W. Bush polarization trail, where he would play one group of Americans off another. It was region against region, rural against urban.

Shortly after his first inauguration, Bush embarked on a "Home to the Heartland" tour. He'd visit small towns and tell their residents that they were better Americans than other Americans. "The strength of this country is in the heartland," he'd say, posing like a pioneer on the Crawford, Texas, ranch that he had bought 24 months earlier.

Thank heavens for schoolchildren. Bush visited the Griegos Elementary School, in Albuquerque, N.M., and asked the second-graders whether they knew where he was from.

"Washington, D.C.!" the children responded with accuracy but not in the spirit of the "Home to the Heartland" tour.

"I grew up in Texas," insisted Bush, a Connecticut-born graduate of Yale, Harvard and before that, Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Bush encouraged interregional resentment throughout his administration. An example: Last fall he went to Jamestown, Va., to help celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding as America's first permanent English settlement. It was Thanksgiving, and in his mind, the perfect time to pit Chesapeake Bay against Plymouth Bay.

"The good folks here say that the founders of Berkeley held their celebration before the Pilgrims had even left port," he said. (Berkeley was an early James River plantation.) "As you can imagine, this version of events is not very popular up north."

What a thoughtful remark.

We now have the Republican vice presidential candidate ripping up all that bipartisan, let's-work-together talk that John McCain had been weaving for months. Small-town people, Palin said, "are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food, run our factories and fight our wars."

They do, and except for the food, so do city folk.

Thus, one was only mildly surprised to learn that former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who campaigned for Bush in 2004, has just endorsed Democrat Barack Obama. Ben Smith of Politico asked Koch why, and the answer was Palin. "She's scary," he said.

Koch is an interesting bellwether, because he is a conservative Democrat, who as New York mayor had challenged entrenched liberal interest groups. He cited Palin's views on progressive taxation, national health insurance and other domestic issues in dire need of addressing -- but most of all her penchant for cultural strife. He took special exception to stories that she had harassed a librarian over the books on her shelves.

"Frankly, it would scare me if she were to succeed John McCain in the presidency," Koch wrote in a press release with his usual candor. Without Palin, McCain would have been an easier choice for Koch than Bush was.

Hey, America grows good people from sea to shining sea, from the Redwood Forests to the Gulf Stream waters. Four more years of playing Jamestown off of Plymouth? The polarization ploy is not good for the country, and never was.

Copyright 2008, Creators Syndicate Inc.

Froma Harrop

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