Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2003 by the Boston Globe
America is More Divided Than Ever
by Derrick Z. Jackson

AT A 1999 fund-raiser, George W. Bush said: "I think it's important for our party to look at candidates and determine who's a uniter, not a divider. Who has proven that they know how to bring people together based upon common consensus?"

In 2000, he said: "I do not believe in pitting one group against another. There is a trend in this country to put people into boxes. . . . I see a United States with one big box: American."

Three years later, Americans are sealing themselves away from each other in thicker boxes than ever -- on war, on race, on religion, on just about everything. This cannot be a surprise. Bush began his presidency by having the United States secede from the earth. His antienvironmental and anti-family planning policies and his unprovoked invasion of Iraq prove that Americans under his leadership will do what we want, take what we want, pollute what we want, and invade whom we want.

Three years of such ferocious desire to dominate the planet could hardly inspire Americans to find common ground back home. Sure enough, two years after Sept. 11, "United We Stand" is "Divided We Scowl."

Last week the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released its 4,000-person survey, "Evenly Divided and Increasingly Polarized." According to the survey, 34 percent of registered voters were Democrat, 33 percent Republican and 33 percent independent or other.

You can find almost nothing Republicans and Democrats agree upon, and the gap on many issues is growing. Eighty-five percent of Republicans said the invasion of Iraq was right while 54 percent of Democrats said it was wrong. Fifty-four percent of Republicans but only 39 percent of Democrats said Americans must give up some civil liberties to curb terrorism. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans but only 44 percent of Democrats said the best way to ensure peace is through military strength.

While Republicans by and large saw nothing wrong with tens of billions of dollars for a war in which the cover cause is to give democracy and economic security to the Iraqi people, there was little interest in assuring the same to everyone back home. Nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans, 72 percent to 39 percent, said the government should help more needy people even if it means a bigger deficit.

As president, Bush has drawn lines in the sand too numerous to cross. The favorite, of course, is the post-9/11 declaration that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists." With such an all-or-nothing demand of allegiance from other nations, it is no shock that Americans could not agree on what "patriotism" means at home. Seventy-one percent of Republicans said they "completely agree" that they are "very patriotic." Only 48 percent of Democrats said they completely agree.

African-Americans, who historically did their patriotic duty of dying in wars halfway around the world only to return home to discrimination, were particularly skeptical. The percentage of African-Americans who completely agreed that they are very patriotic spiked up to 45 in the aftermath of 9/11. It has slipped back to 38 percent.

If Bush thought his attacks on affirmative action would unite the country, he was a bit mistaken. Only 30 percent of African-Americans said a person should fight for the United States even if the war is wrong. That compares with 55 percent of white Americans. Pew said that is the biggest racial gap on that issue in the 16 years of the poll.

Even the gaps among white Democrats and white Republicans grew. In 1991, there was a 10-point gap in the question, "We have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country. In the new survey, the gap was 19 points. Fifty-five percent of white Republicans said the nation has gone too far, up from 46 percent in 1991, while 34 percent of white Democrats said the nation has gone too far, down from 36 percent.

Do not even talk about God being a unifier unless you are a Republican. People who said they attend church more than once a week favor a Bush reelection 63 percent to 37 percent. Democrats can take heart in the notion that Bush's fire and brimstone politics have driven young voters decisively into their column, 60 percent to 40 percent.

On most issues, independents fell somewhere in between the two major parties. With that, the Pew poll showed the nation to be 50-50 on Bush's reelection. It is a conundrum that portends a strange election in 2004. Bush has failed to be a uniter, but the Democrats are still too divided to show how they will bridge the growing gulf. The nation awaits a candidate capable of creating a consensus. It awaits a president who can convince us to jump into the same box.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company