In all of the Bush campaigns, his promises made for great sound bites, the best of which were repeated ad nauseam so that the clichés became trademarks for the right wing who played telephone tag with the leaks and then innocently blamed the media for leaking. The left and even the more moderate Democrats tried to figure out a way to counter the jingoism that passed for policy but they sadly always seemed to be behind the curve, mere pawns on the Rovian chessboard.
In the first presidential campaign, Bush promised to bring dignity back to the white House, to restore respect for the government and the office of the presidency itself, to work both sides of the aisle to bring people together. People wanted to believe him, and he sounded so folksy, his message came across as real. So what if he stumbled, he would be humble. If his tongue got twisted, at least he would be a straight shooter and we'd know what the truth was. That was the theory, anyway. After all, the man claimed to be so appalled at the sordid condition of the White House and loose morals of its occupants, his stuttered words soothed citizens troubled by the strident partisanship that had racked the Clinton White House. Americans were not going to be smooth-talked again; they were concerned with the cultural decadence all around and they wanted it stopped. They wanted to go back to a simpler and more chaste time. Bush offered protection from the sordid past. The Bush message provided a Big Daddy who would make sure that rules were followed and that morality would return to a more ordered world.
That's what they thought. And they didn't want to be wrong. They wanted to believe.
The refrain of "I'm a uniter, not a divider" was heard again during the second campaign, and indeed the Republicans united around their president in spite of intraparty differences. Since then, many have made mincemeat of the slogan – the country couldn't have been more divided and angry as epithets were hurled over the airwaves.
But the most amazing thing has happened: Bush has had his first real success; he has finally united the country. Through the smoke and mirrors, out of the divide, unity emerged. For the first time in memory, the likes of Pat Buchanan and Joe Klein agree with one another; the Weekly Standard and Slate are in accord; even the Wall Street Journal has more in common with the Washington Post than it does with W. The Sunnis and Shiites may hate each other, but they agree on one thing and that one thing may be what ultimately binds a fragile Iraq: they both detest W. and the American presence in their country. Bush has become the lightening rod around which people all over the world now agree. He has made such a mess of the country and, by default and passive-aggressive neglect, the world that just about everyone agrees things must change. And while there is no absolute agreement on how to effect the necessary changes, that is mostly a function of the fact that there are so few viable options in Iraq and the Middle East and domestic policy is such a mess that even a new and more enlightened Congress hasn't begun to touch it lest they be blamed for it before the 2008 election cycle.
We can now agree that the delusional rhetoric that used to pass for policy is nonsense. The new group think is that the emperor has no clothes and the people have finally taken notice. The selling of the presidential fairy tales has been relegated to the remainder tables. The Bush scary tales are full of mean witches' brew and renewed perceptions conclude that they may not have happy endings after all. It's all right to have been wrong, even if the President won't admit it. The newly united citizens know better. The War was a mistake; the elections were mistakes. And come to think of it, lots of other things Bush did weren't so down-home honest and folksy either.
So the uniter-not-the-divider president has united the country against the uniter himself, his lies, his double speak, his rotten policies that have created hate and dissention around the world, his incompetence, his cronies.
W. can't add a signing statement to the law of unintended consequences. United We Stand now takes on a different meaning, one that the original sloganeers never imagined. It's the start of a new era. If the left and the right can actually have a civil conversation and get those in power out of the way of changing paths, perhaps we can use that as a model for exporting negotiating skills and peaceful settlement of differences. Isn't that what uniters do?
© Lynne Glasner 2006