No matter how much we wish it weren’t so, America is split in two. The two sides—call them conservative vs. liberal, red vs. blue, or “real” vs. “elite”—have very different dreams for America. And while, yes, at the end of the day we are all brothers, standing united with our fellow countrymen in times of turmoil, the two Americas have been playing a decades-long tug-of-war that has usually resulted in stalemate. The results of Tuesday’s election, however, will be a huge victory for one half of the country, and could finally steer America down a single decisive path.
John McCain and Sarah Palin’s recent political rallies have drawn criticism for inspiring hatred and division among their increasingly volatile base. They patronize their supporters by calling them “real” Americans, flattering them for being more “patriotic” than the liberal city slickers of the Obama-supporting blue states. And as vile and divisive their strategy is, it has been unsurprisingly successful at casting doubt over Barack Obama during the final hours of the campaign.
These tactics are so effective because they appeal to the deep distrust felt by conservative Americans towards their liberal, elitist, godless, fruity neighbors. Liberals often have a similarly myopic view of their conservative counterparts, viewing them as ignorant, homophobic, racist Bible-thumpers ruled by three driving forces: God, Money, and Fear. Each side has a vision for America that seemingly opposes that of the other. Which one will be the America of the future?
Should we adhere to “Christian values” that would outlaw gay marriage and reverse Roe vs. Wade? Should we continue to fight in Iraq until we vindicate the deaths of tens of thousands? Should we drill, baby, drill despite diminishing reserves and escalating prices, and sacrifice our wild areas and waters to help assuage our thirst? Should we make no effort to slow global warming, and view the environment as an obstacle opposed to human advancement? Should America be the one true economic and military superpower in the world, unconcerned with negative global ramifications? Should government exist only to restrict the personal freedoms of those who would marry someone of the same sex, or have an abortion, but give carte blanche to financial institutions and polluting corporations while opposing health care reform, all in the name of glorious unfettered Capitalism?
Or should we become a secular and tolerant America, embracing true equality for gays and freedom of choice for women? Should we cut our losses in Iraq, where we’ve never had a clear objective, and where we’ve thrown away billions of dollars and thousands of lives? Should we look to the future and move toward sustainable energy, freeing us from depending upon Middle Eastern dictators and minimizing future damage to the environment? Should government reform heath care and better regulate corporations to stave off future financial crises? Should we become citizens of the world, not its bullies and exploiters, and stop making demands of other nations that we ourselves refuse to follow?
America is at the crossroads, and on November 4th we’ll see which road lies ahead. Will we cling to the broken pieces of a disastrous decade, running with guns blazing towards our doom, like Butch and Sundance? Or will we listen to the better angels of our nature, and move towards a future of reason, responsibility, and peace? Can the two Americas ever unite over common ground? Will America refuse to evolve, adhering to old habits and prejudices under the guise of patriotism? Or can liberals drag conservatives, kicking and screaming, into a brighter tomorrow? We’ll all know the answers to these questions very soon.
But no matter what the outcome, one thing is certain: to face the challenges of tomorrow, we need to be a better America than the fearful one McCain and Palin see, and are so eager to exploit. We need to be brave, thoughtful, and compassionate, and not give in to the hate-mongering of manipulative politicians. We need to look out for our neighbor, not fear or hate him, and refuse to play into the hands of those who would see us divided for their own gain.
And that’s a vision for America everybody can get behind.