Unclenching the Fist to Shake Hands:
A Message to Adversaries Abroad and at Home

Gallup map - State of the States - Political Party Advantage

© Gallup Inc. -- American political landscape: January 2009

Could it be that George W. Bush, in part by serving as the most effective recruitment tool in Al Qaeda’s arsenal, also played the very same role in recruiting U.S. voters for the Democratic Party? If new research from Gallup is any indication, that seems to be a fair assessment.

We all know by now that a majority of the U.S. electorate VOTED Democratic last November. But interestingly, Gallup on Wednesday released data soundly confirming suspicions that a clear majority of Americans also now IDENTIFY as Democratic — a seismic shift since 2002.

What is left in the aftermath of the 2006 and 2008 Democratic sweeps are only five out of the 50 states in which a clear majority of residents still identify with the Republican Party. They are: Alaska, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming.

The post-electoral wilderness in which so many conservatives supposedly will be wandering for at least the next few years has been reduced to a tiny sliver of America — five Western outposts that, together, amass only 7.3 million people — a mere 2.4 percent of the nation’s 304 million citizens.

As we enter the new Obama-Biden era, America’s new political landscape looks as follows, according to the Gallup data:

  • Strongly Democratic:
    (By 10 points or more)
    29 states plus DC
  • Lean Democratic:
    (By 5-9 points)
    6 states
  • Competitive:
    (Less than 5-point advantage by either party)
    10 states
  • Lean Republican:
    (By 5-9 points)
    4 states
  • Strongly Republican:
    (By 10 points or more)
    1 state

Any progressive would be well-advised, however, first to reject the temptation to believe that these gains will prove longstanding rather than ephemeral, and secondly, to refrain from indulging in the very same arrogant steamroller mindset in which Bush and crew strutted for eight years — lest we find ourselves in yet another Democratic exile of our own.

Breaking out the champagne is fine. After all, it’s been a tortuously long eight years. But let’s at least invite our Republican friends to the celebration and play the good host. If they choose not to come, then at least we will have made the earnest effort.

Despite House Republicans’ bold display of their trademark partisan warfare by refusing Wednesday to offer a single vote for the economic stimulus package proposed by the Obama administration — a measure that ultimately passed anyway — Democrats cannot be fully absolved of helping to set that acrimonious stage.

House Democrats began down that slippery slope by blocking Republicans from taking part in the bill’s drafting — even as the newly installed President Obama was calling for a new era of more mature, cooperative relations between the parties in resolving America’s current daunting crises.

When House GOP members objected to having no seat at the bill-drafting table, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rubbed salt in the wound with her thoughtless “We won the election” remarks — a sentiment surprisingly echoed just days later by none other than Obama himself.

In his inaugural address, Obama sent a clear, compelling message to corrupt leaders around the globe — certainly including America’s would-be enemies abroad: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Only the most self-righteous progressive ever would place Republicans in the same league as U.S. adversaries such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela — even though the party’s misguided economic, foreign and human rights policies have inflicted far more harm on this nation these past eight years than all those “enemies” combined ever could hope to do.

But perhaps Republicans nonetheless should take heed of Obama’s underlying message. If shaking the hand of a historically hostile foreign adversary in the hope of fostering a more civil way forward is an approach good enough to use with our enemies abroad, why isn’t it good enough to use with our political adversaries here at home?

And if Republicans do somehow manage to unclench their fists in order to meet midway the outstretched Democratic hand, Democrats must stand ready to heartily shake hands in a professional, “Now, let’s get down to business together” manner.

The newly elected Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, however, today sent his own signal that he would have none of that bipartisan spirit, which he claimed is “overrated”. Hmm…guess he missed the memo on the election results from both 2006 and 2008, when voters specifically elected Democratic candidates in large part to change the bitter political tone that has plagued Washington since 1992.

After 12 straight years of holding the White House beginning in 1980, the GOP never accepted Bill Clinton’s legitimacy in ending their tenure and showed it every chance they got over the next eight years, launching endless investigations that almost never produced anything at all of substance. This tone continued throughout the Bush years — and judging from Steele’s latest remarks, apparently even the tone’s nauseating stench has not yet convinced them it’s long past time for its burial.

How can we ever expect Israelis and Palestinians to live peacefully among each other if we — Republicans and Democrats alike — cannot even do so? We can all-too-easily imagine former vice president Dick Cheney’s probable reaction to such a query: a shoulder shrug accompanied by a contemptuously indifferent, “So? Your point?”.

But more importantly, what would Lincoln think? What would Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and our nation’s other visionary founders think? And what would the 44 million men and women who have fought and died for this nation over these past 234 years think of this petty squabbling from their final resting places?