George W. Bush promised us that he would be "a uniter, not a divider," and, in one sense, he has succeeded. He seems to have united the whole world against us. Sunnis and Shiites. Muslims and Christians. French and vertebrates.
But in another sense, even the president's supporters acknowledge that this administration has the country polarized. How polarized? Think of America as a floppy disk. Now think of Bush as one of those huge, dangling electromagnets that lift cars in junkyards.
On the day I am writing this, a new poll reveals that support for the war in Iraq is beginning to falter -- that a growing number of Americans are starting to suspect that it might be a foreign policy blunder of historic proportions -- and yet, somehow, stunningly, this isn't helping John Kerry at all. The point is, minds are already made up, on both sides. Nowadays, this is what amounts to political dialogue in America:
Voter 1: Before I'd vote for Bush, they'd have to prove Kerry was a cannibal. And I mean a currently practicing cannibal, not, like, you know, just experimenting with it in college.
Voter 2: Yeah, well, for me to vote for Kerry, they'd actually have to catch Bush with a fricasseed human butt cheek in his mouth.
Voter 1: Yeah, well, the only way I'm voting for Bush is if the butt cheek Kerry was eating belonged to my mother . . .
Voter 2: Yeah, well . . .
I say it is time to end all this partisan bickering. How? Simple. Kill all Democrats.
Ha-ha. No, the truth is we need to soften the national rhetoric by being less judgmental of those with whom we may disagree. In short, give others the benefit of the doubt. In my role as the Great Conciliator, I would like to offer some simple ways to defuse unfair, incendiary stereotypes about the candidates.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 1: Kerry flip-flops like beached mackerel, tailoring his positions to the expediencies of the moment, without any true convictions, adhering to no principles other than self-promotion, and is ruthless and opportunistic professionally and personally, even marrying for money -- in short displaying the moral fiber of a carnival shill and the decisiveness of a windsock in a tornado.
More conciliatory approach: Sen. Kerry has formidable hair.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 2: Bush's insistence on seeing things in moral absolutes -- which has embroiled us in a repugnant, unwinnable war on behalf of people who hate us -- bespeaks not a man with clarity of vision but a clueless, incurious, ignorant simpleton with vacant, deer-in-the-headlight eyes who must retreat in fear behind easy-to-understand, platitudinous, flag-flapping dogma so as to disguise his inability to comprehend the nuanced realities of international diplomacy and human affairs, all of which allows him to dimwittedly fall under the sway of Strangelovian political theorists and greedy war profiteers.
More conciliatory approach: President Bush doesn't drink alcoholic beverages anymore.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 3: Kerry has the appearance and the personality of a corpse -- a haughty, stiff, humorless demeanor lacking joy or spontaneity, one that goes beyond simple aloofness and suggests a deep and troubling character dysfunction -- the sort of impenetrable, icy, friendless, keeper-of-one's-own-counsel temperament typical of those who are someday exposed as assassins, spies or the sort of neighborhood pervert who steals panties from clotheslines.
More conciliatory approach: Sen. Kerry once personally killed a communist.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 4: Bush permits his agents to attack his opponent's military record, indicating gall in concentrations usually found only inside the human liver.
More conciliatory approach: President Bush jogs regularly.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 5: Kerry is politically to the left of Trotsky, and is unlikely to change unless it might help him politically, in which case he will happily move to the right of Genghis Khan. (See stereotype No. 1.)
More conciliatory approach: Sen. Kerry is tall.
Unfair, incendiary stereotype No. 6: Bush's very public trumpeting of his religious convictions is at best an exercise in shameless sanctimony and at worst an indication of a self-righteous, Cotton Mather-like absolutist theology -- a puritanical, good-versus-evil, I-know-what-God-wants certitude that is in some ways no different from those of his radical Islamic adversaries, a collision of unyielding spiritual philosophies with terrifying, apocalyptic implications for the entire globe.
More conciliatory approach: President Bush likes dogs.
Incendiary stereotype No. 7: This is the worst presidential choice the American electorate has ever faced.
More conciliatory approach: It looks like it's going to be an excellent baseball season.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is email@example.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.