There was once an ideal known simply as America. Long before America was arguably the most power nation in the world, and decades before American shores provided refuge to social, religious, and economic prisoners, America was a concept. Before Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci competed for the necessary funding to find and explore America, there was, in the minds of classical theorists, a concept of freedom, progression, and creation. While we can refer to history books and empirical documentation to quench our thirst for a true understanding of those times, our efforts would perhaps be better suited for understanding our own times.
While gaining perspective by understanding the past has long been a practice of rational thinkers, when being asked to seek solutions in the past for modern day issues, we, as a global community, are asking too much. In America, there are challenges that exist today where historical points of reference cannot be sought as a platform for solutions. On a domestic level, economic issues such as those which Americans currently face does not have a historical framing device. Following the widespread panic of 1907, the Federal Reserve was created through the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. However, following the Great Depression, the American centralized banking system then again evolved into a far greater regulatory mechanism. That is, as our problems evolve, so do our systems for responding to these problems. This, on a baseline level, is the very backbone of solving problems in America. However, beyond the global and domestic economic woes, currently resides a deeper problem; bipartisanship in America currently ceases to exist.
In 1987, President Ronald Regan nominated Judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. Bork was an antitrust scholar, the forefather of orginalism, and possessed arguably the greatest understanding of the United States Constitution of any legal scholar in recent history. Today, Robert Bork is a best selling author, a professor, and remains a practicing attorney.
Like all nominees for the Supreme Court, Bork was subject to approval from the United States Senate. At the time, a gentleman named Lewis Powell, a moderate Supreme Court justice was set to retire, opening the door for Reagan’s nomination of Bork. Because Powell was known within the legislative and judicial communities as a “swing vote” in close decisions, the liberal agenda planned to adamantly reject whomever President Regan nominated for fear of losing ideological power. It was within an hour of the nomination, on July 1, 1987 that bipartisanship in America would begin to erode.
The late Edward “Ted” Kennedy, an often outspoken liberal Senator from Massachusetts whose success was predicated on his last name and saturated with controversy, changed the face of American politics. Prior to this day in 1987, there were Americans who voted for candidates based on issues, platforms, objectives, and policy. However, by the end of the day, because of one public display to the media, the letter next to a candidates name which acknowledged their political party affiliation would become more important than the candidate themselves. For all of the ill-fated, manipulating, controversial, and suspect decisions Senator Kennedy would make in his life, it would be this display which would have the greatest affect on American politics.
Before the senate, and amidst a sea of media personnel, Senator Kennedy made a speech which included the following statements:
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters……and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.”
Kennedy’s speech about “Robert Bork’s America” stunned the Reagan administration and as a result was countered by conservatives as slander. Due to the volatility of Kennedy’s comments, as well as the sensitivity of the political times, liberals were given no choice but to support the statements made, and conservatives were irrevocably enraged. A highly contested debate surrounding the Bork nomination ensued in the senate, and the American media, as well as the American people, had a front row seat. It was no longer about Bork as a man, a judicial authority, or a scholar. It was also no longer about Kennedy, his speech, his failures, or his track record. For the first time in American politics an ideological political war was taking place for the nation to see, and it was not between two men, but rather two parties.
Since the Robert Bork Nomination, political ideology in America has been separated by a brick wall. With each year that passes, each election that comes and goes, and each challenge that stands before the American people, there is an additional layer added to the top of that brick wall. With each passing breath we get further and further away from a true democratic process, from any chance of a bipartisan system, and further and further away from the original concept or idea of an “America” from generations past. Today we have a system which emphasizes affiliation and group think, as opposed to individualism and autonomy. We have a system where a vote is decided by an (R) or a (D) as opposed to the candidates listed next to the letters. We have two parties, allegedly representing the same body of citizens, who are expected to contradict one and other. We have a two party system with two different destinations, two different paths to travel, and two very different political agendas. If you asked any American what political party they belong to they will likely offer you a response. However, if you ask them why they support that party, sadly, in many instances, that answer will elude them.
The word bipartisan refers to any action of a political body where both republicans and democrats are in agreement. Bipartisanship is elusive, transparent, and for all intensive purposes, at this point in history, nothing more than an abstraction. Americans face a world ripe with economic and sociological dilemma in a form we have never before seen. Thus, Americans must develop a solution that has never before been utilized. Sadly, I am certainly not in possession of such a solution. What I do know is this, history has a sense of humor, and irony is rich in the American infrastructure. Senator Kennedy said in 1987 that a “Robert Bork America” would segregate races at lunch counters. Well, apparently in an “Edward Kennedy America” those lunch counters are segregated by political ideals. There is no easy resolution to the American conundrum; however, if history has taught us anything, it is this. Innovation is risky, words are documented, and complacency is precarious. Reward however can come as the result of any of the three, and much like our two party system, neither can be ruled out.