Flying home from London, where the subject of formal debate on the 70th anniversary of World War II had been whether Winston Churchill was a liability or asset to the Free World, one arrives in the middle of a far more acrimonious national debate right here in the United States.
At issue: Should Barack Obama be allowed to address tens of millions of American children, inside their classrooms, during school hours?
Conservative talk-show hosts saw a White House scheme to turn public schools into indoctrination centers where the socialist ideology of Obama would be spoon-fed to captive audiences of children forced to listen to Big Brother — and then do assignments on his sermon.
The liberal commentariat raged about right-wing paranoia.
Yet Byron York of the Washington Examiner dug back to 1991 to discover that, when George H.W. Bush went to Alice Deal Junior High to speak to America’s school kids, the left lost it.
“The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props,” railed the Washington Post. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander was called before a House committee. The National Education Association denounced Bush. And Congress ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate.
Obama’s actual speech proved about as controversial as a Nancy Reagan appeal to eighth-graders to “Just say no!” to drugs.
Yet, the episode reveals the poisoned character of our politics.
We saw it earlier on display in August, when the crowds that came out for town hall meetings to oppose Obama’s health-care plans were called “thugs,” “fascists,” “racists” and “evil-mongers” by national Democrats.
We see it as Rep. Joe Wilson shouts, “You lie!” at the president during his address to a joint session of Congress.
We seem not only to disagree with each other more than ever, but to have come almost to detest one another. Politically, culturally, racially, we seem ever ready to go for each others’ throats.
One half of America sees abortion as the annual slaughter of a million unborn. The other half regards the right-to-life movement as tyrannical and sexist.
Proponents of gay marriage see its adversaries as homophobic bigots. Opponents see its champions as seeking to elevate unnatural and immoral relationships to the sacred state of traditional marriage.
The question invites itself. In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?
Yet, today, Mexican-Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a skirmish in a French-Mexican war about which most Americans know nothing, which took place the same year as two of the bloodiest battles of our own Civil War: Antietam and Fredericksburg.
Christmas and Easter, the great holidays of Christendom, once united Americans in joy. Now we fight over whether they should even be mentioned, let alone celebrated, in our public schools.
Where we used to have classical, pop, country & Western and jazz music, now we have varieties tailored to specific generations, races and ethnic groups. Even our music seems designed to subdivide us.
One part of America loves her history, another reviles it as racist, imperialist and genocidal. Old heroes like Columbus, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee are replaced by Dr. King and Cesar Chavez.
But the old holidays, heroes and icons endure, as the new have yet to put down roots in a recalcitrant Middle America.
We are not only more divided than ever on politics, faith and morality, but along the lines of class and ethnicity. Those who opposed Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court and stood by Sgt. Crowley in the face-off with Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates were called racists. But this time they did not back down. They threw the same vile word right back in the face of their accusers, and Barack Obama.
Consider but a few issues on which Americans have lately been bitterly divided: school prayer, the Ten Commandments, evolution, the death penalty, abortion, homosexuality, assisted suicide, affirmative action, busing, the Confederate battle flag, the Duke rape case, Terri Schiavo, Iraq, amnesty, torture.
Now it is death panels, global warming, “birthers” and socialism. If a married couple disagreed as broadly and deeply as Americans do on such basic issues, they would have divorced and gone their separate ways long ago. What is it that still holds us together?
The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges. Globalism dissolves the economic bonds, while the cacophony of multiculturalism displaces the old American culture.
“E pluribus unum” – out of many, one – was the national motto the men of ’76 settled upon. One sees the pluribus. But where is the unum? One sees the diversity. But where is the unity?
Is America, too, breaking up?