In North Carolina, a man electrified his John McCain campaign sign so it delivered a nasty shock to the nine-year-old neighbor trying to steal it. In California, a man hanged a Saran Palin effigy — stylish black pumps swaying softly in the breeze. In Pennsylvania, at a Palin rally, a corpulent man gleefully toted a stuffed monkey, a Barack Obama sticker wrapped around its head like a turban.
The interminable months of this election just past were marked by some strange and ugly behavior. It seemed at times to be the concentrated distillation of the past eight wildly partisan years — years in which the so-called red-state/blue-state dichotomy has become ingrained in America's fabric.
So, now that we're getting a new president, what happens?
That a number of rightward-leaning folks — Colin Powell, Christophers Buckley and Hitchens — endorsed Obama was encouraging. They believed something legions of rabid rightists do not: that the only way forward for this country is to elect a man of decency and competence with an inclusive vision for the country. Still, no one's naïve enough to suggest that the entire nation will dissolve into a big melty goop of purply bipartisanship the second Obama takes office.
But 10 days on from that momentous election, with the map seemingly redrawn (even vermillion Indiana turned blue) it's worth asking whether or not we might expect some changes in our national character.
McCain, in the gloaming of his candidacy, presided over one of the most disgracefully divisive campaigns in US history. The language and insinuation employed by his ticket and its supporters should be abhorrent to anyone who cares about the promises of liberal democracy: "the real America" . . . "traitor" . . . "the other folks."
Meanwhile, Obama — worldly, biracial, unbeholden to baby-boomer hang-ups, born in a blue state but with red-state roots — showed throughout the campaign that he means to offer something better. A cease-fire (or at least an abatement) in the culture wars. A sense of unity and common purpose. A general appeal to our better natures.
But what can we realistically hope for? Can "the first truly 21st-century figure in American politics," to borrow Washington Post op-ed writer E.J. Dionne's words, actually bridge these deep national divisions? Will the end of the Bush years signal the simultaneous end of interstate rifts? Or will the antipathies between the government and its malcontentsonly calcify further?
Short answers, in order: we'll see; no; and potentially, but hopefully not.
The idea of arugula-eaters and gun-clingers suddenly casting aside their differences and joining hands across America is, to repurpose Bill Clinton's famous putdown, a "fairy tale." About half the populace right now is nursing some pretty bruised feelings. But that doesn't mean we couldn't try for common ground.
Obama put out the call within minutes of his victory: "Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled, and not disabled," this nation has "never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America."
Now it's up to us to prove it. And make no mistake: the heavy lifting will have to be done by us, not him.
On October 23, Joe Biden sat down for a satellite interview with Orlando's ABC affiliate WFTV. His reaction, in so many words: WTF?
The station's health reporter, Barbara West, grilled Biden with questions that seemed culled directly from right-wing talking points. "You may recognize this famous quote," she intoned. " 'From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Senator Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to 'spread the wealth around'?"
Biden's nonplussed reply: "Are you joking? Is this a joke?"
The patent absurdity of the charge is overshadowed by West's myopia. (After all: red was Marx's favorite color!) She might not be aware that Marxist thought can be manifested in the darnedest of places — like, say, a deep-South military base.
"A military base is like the most successful flowering of socialism in the world," says Kathy Roth-Douquet, co-author, with Frank Schaeffer, of, How Free People Move Mountains: A Male Christian Conservative and a Female Jewish Liberal on a Quest for Common Purpose and Meaning (Collins). "It's where the incomes are the most even. Day care is 'from each, to each,' and could cost as little as $5. Housing is free. Health care is free. It's actually kind of nice."
Roth-Douquet was an Obama campaign advisor, held a job in the Clinton White House, and has been a long-time Democratic foot soldier. Schaeffer campaigned for McCain in 2000, and his father, Francis Schaeffer, was an evangelical theologian, credited by many with influencing the political rise of the religious right.