Capitol Idea: Seeking New Unity In A Place Of Historical Disunity

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Watching charming, autumn-tinted scenery roll by driving the rural highways of this corner of Adams County, you could think yourself anywhere in rural America.

Further, the campaign signs that read: “PRO TAX RELIEF PRO JOBS” are indicative merely of a rightward tilt pervasive across the nation as a whole.

That 7,863 Americans lost their lives here over three bloody days in July 1863 in civil war — and tens of thousands of others left seriously wounded — gives this ground a unique place in our national unity and disunity, however.

Gettysburg, of course, also is famous for the 272-word speech President Abraham Lincoln gave here four-and-a-half months after the battle was over, delivered to bolster approval for a war that at the time was quickly losing public support.

Less known is that 75 years after the Union, just barely, beat Robert E. Lee’s army here, some 1,800 Civil War veterans gathered on the same hill from which Maj. Gen. Robert Rodes launched a Confederate attack. They came to dedicate the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, to “Peace Eternal in a Nation United.”

It’s certainly not at all clear, though, that here in 2010, we’re living up to that dedication.

To be sure, an election — even one as contentious as we face in less than a week’s time — is not tantamount to an armed struggle such as that which once cleaved our nation.

But the recent talk of “Second Amendment solutions” to political debate, and the stomping of a peaceful campaign protester in Kentucky, seem to carry the same strains that inflamed passions ahead of the Civil War.

And while slavery is no longer a salient political issue, our persistent Red State/Blue State divide bears much in common with the sectionalism which helped spark the war in 1861.

Even if our political leaders were interested in fostering a greater sense of national unity, our winner-takes-all government doesn’t easily lend itself to creating governments of national unity such as have been more common in Israel, or even the United Kingdom.

Yet that was Lincoln’s goal for his second term. A Republican, Lincoln purposefully chose Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice president and ran not under either the Republican or Democrat banner, but rather won election on the Union Party ticket.

I am neither naive, nor a fool. I understand full well that, at one another’s political throats as they are, no one is terribly interested in spreading harmony or solidarity — especially with Republicans poised to crush Democrats in less than a week’s time.

And yet.

Putting aside heat in favor of light, there are real, rational, and yes — self-interested — reasons for Democrats and Republicans both to forge a deeper sense of cooperation and common purpose.

With the economy continuing to limp as badly as it is, almost no one expects a dramatic recovery anytime soon. That the downturn is proving to be so pernicious is what’s driving so much of the discontent in the country.

If Republicans succeed in retaking control of all, or part, of Congress on Tuesday, they will immediately start to own a significant share of that discontent.

Republicans may drink their Kool Aid, but I’m willing to bet that there are some conservatives of consequence in Washington who have not become entirely fact-free.

These conservatives will understand, though they crave tax cuts, those cuts alone won’t truly pull the economy out of its deep slump. Given that they would then own some responsibility for fixing the economy, these smart Republicans will want some meaningful solutions — lest voters turn their anger back on them in the next election.

They no longer could long afford to continue only as the “Party of No.”

Democrats, of course, could offer such solutions,that if enacted, could provide Republicans potentially significant political upside in 2012.

The Democrats, meanwhile, would be able to implement at least some of the economic salves they’ve been wanting to all along. To be sure, it would take much horse-trading, and it wouldn’t come quickly — but, then again, they could see that as at least marginally better than the current filibuster-in-perpetuity that exists today in the Senate.

What would be in it for Democrats to go along with all this? Aside from a chance to actually help average Americans, you mean?

How about keeping a Democrat in the White House? Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as In The Midst of Disunity, Rededicating Ourselves To ‘Peace Eternal In A Nation United’ on Blogcritics.

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