Two many Americas

By MIKE MILIARD  |  November 14, 2008

Powerful words. Like so many of us, Schaeffer had decided that McCain's suddenly and shockingly divisive words weren't just debasing the discourse, but actually creating a toxic and — God forbid — lethal rhetorical environment.

In contrast, Schaeffer was drawn to Obama's vision of unity and inclusivity. And he found it fit nicely with what he and Roth-Douquet had been writing about. "Our book was reaching for what the Barack Obama platform was about," he says. "Moving past red and blue states to find a commonality that all Americans can claim together. In a way, our book is sort of a preamble to some of the programs Obama has been talking about."

The good guy won. But Roth-Douquet warns now that "The ball's in our court. There's only so much a leader can do. It doesn't end the day he gets elected."

So how is it to be accomplished, this attempt to bridge the chasm between Fox News and MSNBC, the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post? Step one, argues Roth-Douquet, is to revive a sense of community, cooperation, and common purpose. And that can happen only, she writes, if everyone "actually becomes convinced that our survival truly depends on each other."

Because, she explains, it does. The economy is in shambles. The environment is in grave peril. Millions of Americans go without food and health care. "You do need crises to move people. Well, here's a crisis."

Close encounters
That still doesn't quite blueprint the mechanics of how an ostensibly 50/50 nation can shelve its differences — at times, outright hostility — and get anything done.

The key is "make right-wingers and left-wingers work together," contends Schaeffer. "We can get there from here. But we gotta find places where we're forced to meet."

Service, he says, "is one of them." Roth-Douquet knows for a fact that Obama has read AWOL, which argues for an American military staffed by a more representative sampling — economically, ethnically, geographically — of the American people. But the military isn't everything, obviously.

Obama's ambitious service plan, which he hopes will simultaneously bolster both the educational system and the nonprofit sector, offers fairly comprehensive set of ideas: more than tripling the size of AmeriCorps, actively engaging retirees, doubling the membership of the Peace Corps.

It's the right idea, says Schaeffer. Because, be it the Army or Habitat for Humanity or Teach for America, "building a house in New Orleans or getting shot at in Afghanistan" alongside people who aren't like you will "change the way you see your country" and make it harder "to live in these hermetically sealed enclaves."

The fact, as Roth-Douquet believes, that Obama is "genuinely not a very partisan person" means he may be just the guy to help make this happen. "He never really had to be a 'party person' to win," she says. "He never built a whole entourage of friends he's beholden to. He has more of a citizen mentality."

The angry right
Bipartisanship is the byword all of a sudden. We'll see for how long. But don't kid yourself that everyone is willing and/or able to kick the habit of fractious factionalism. Think a guy like far-right dweeb Jonah Goldberg — who argued in the Los Angeles Times that Obama's service plan was tantamount to slavery (and wondered, in all seriousness why a "black presidential candidate" would want to violate the 13th Amendment) — is going to pipe down now?

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