Fear and Loathing

He’s a senior staffer of a senior member of Congress. I was sitting in his office to ask the member’s support on a couple of bills that are very important to me and to my ministry. Their cost is measured in millions, not billions, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find someone in this place to get behind them. On an ordinary day, that is. But these are not ordinary days in this extraordinary city of granite façades.

He took off his stylish, horn-rimmed glasses and laid them on the table between us. He was clearly exhausted. “It’s been a hard couple of weeks. Our folks are, well, the only word I can think of is ‘terrified.’ In fact, I haven’t seen this kind of fear around here since we were attacked. There are three trillion dollars up in the air, and we’re trying to spend them responsibly. And the truth is, no one knows if it’s going to work. And if we do it wrong, it could collpase not just our country, but the whole world.”

And then he launched into an attack on his political opposition that was breath-taking in its ferocity. I had just been in the office of an opposition member who was just as caustic in his appraisal of this side of the ideological divide.

The New Age of Bi-Partisanship is over. It didn’t even last a month. In the words of the now former Commerce Secretary-designate Judd Gregg, “We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.”

As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha.”

The American people chose as a President a man who promised to reach out across the aisle and work with his political opponents. He was going to create bi-partisan change by enlisting the best and brightest on all sides to forge new post-partisan solutions to our enormous challenges. He appeared to be sincerely trying to do that, with Cabinet choices and key advisors from both parties. But the tribal warfare spans what Judd Gregg dubbed “a bridge too far.” I guess this is how it feels in Iraq or Afghanistan–standing on the edge of reform, so close that you can smell the cinnamon rolls, but too far away to taste the icing. Your stomach churns, not from hunger, but from despair. 

This forty-fourth President stands in the shadows of the fourteenth, whose bi-centennial is this week. In his first inaugural address, with a rebellious Confederacy rattling its sabres, Abraham Lincoln reminded all Americans:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Those better angels are in full retreat once again. The last time that happened, the Union itself was rent asunder. This time, the very fabric of the world may unravel. 

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