After this intensely fought election, both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are speaking of the need to heal our divisions and come together as a single, united nation. They're wrong. Critics of the Bush presidency do not need to heal our divisions but to insist on them. President Bush has presided over an extraordinarily divisive and polarizing administration. The suggestion that we should now "heal our divisions" is really a suggestion not for unity but for capitulation.
In the aftermath of the 2000 election, it was entirely appropriate for Al Gore's supporters to stand firmly behind President Bush and to work hard to unify the country. As governor of Texas and as candidate for national office, Bush had proceeded as a moderate Republican in the mold of his father -- a compassionate conservative committed to creative thinking, innovative ways of helping those in need and novel methods for promoting economic growth and environmental protection. Of course many Gore voters reacted bitterly to the Supreme Court's decision in Bush vs. Gore. But candidate Bush had earned, by his words, his deeds and his considerable human grace, the right to the support of those who did not vote for him.
Bush's presidency, and his 2004 campaign, have been conducted in a radically different spirit. Time and again, he has repudiated the advice of moderates within his party and his administration -- seeking deeper and deeper tax cuts for the wealthy, refusing to take even small steps to protect against global warming, adopting an energy policy largely for (and partly by) the oil companies, playing politics with the Constitution, and appointing extremist judges who seem to think that our founding document protects not privacy but freedom from maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws.
The radical policy choices are both unified and dwarfed by a much larger problem. Much of the time, the Bush administration treats its critics with contempt -- not as fellow citizens to be included in a continuing national discussion, but as enemies or traitors unworthy of a respectful hearing. In the midst of World War II, appeals court Judge Learned Hand said, "The spirit of liberty is that spirit which is not too sure that it is right." Using the word "liberty" as a badge of self-congratulation, the Bush administration has failed to respect its spirit.
There is a huge contrast here with the administration of George H.W. Bush, which took countless steps, of both substance and style, to include its apparent adversaries -- for example, by supporting the Americans with Disabilities Act and a dramatic strengthening of the Clean Air Act.
In his victory speech, President Bush spoke directly to those who did not vote for him: "I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust ... We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. " In his first term, Bush repeatedly violated the trust of many millions of Democrats and independents who thought that they would be able to support him.
This is not a time to yield to a radical agenda for our nation's future or its Constitution. Nor is it time to heal our divisions. It is time to shout them from the rooftops.