Unity faded, division now reigns

Senate Democrats and Republicans both put their hands on their hearts during a December 2001 memorial ceremony to commemorate the September 11 attacks.

It was just hours after the World Trade Center towers fell, the Pentagon broke open and a plane bore a hole in a Pennsylvania field that congressmen and women, Republicans and Democrats, stood side by side on the Capitol steps singing “God Bless America.”

None of them seemed to care what state they were from, how they voted on recent bills or which party they were affiliated with.

But that was Sept. 11, 2001.

The harmony sung from the nation’s capitol didn’t last long and eventually turned to passionate political rhetoric.

It’s not an uncommon rhythm, experts said.

“After Sept. 11, you had a joining together. This is typical of the rally-around-the-flag phenomena,” said Joseph S. Nye, former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School and author of “The Future of Power.”

The calls for bipartisanship were loud and clear after Sept. 11. And each year, right around Labor Day and just before the anniversary, the calls and tone start to come back.

On the five-year anniversary of 9/11, President George W. Bush told the nation that it must “put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us.”

More recently, two weeks before the 10-year anniversary, President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address: “The sense of common purpose that we need in America doesn’t have to be a fleeting moment. It can be a lasting virtue.”

While the calls for unity continued each year around the time of the attacks, they haven’t been as loud or abundant as they were 10 years ago, political science experts have found.

In an article for “International Politics,” government and political science professors Peter Trubowitz and Nicole Mellow examined roll-call voting in Congress to analyze bipartisanship, particularly with foreign policy.

“Whatever else future historians say about American politics in this period, they will not say that the start of the 21st century was a time of consensus and unity over foreign policy,” the professors wrote in their article titled “Foreign policy, bipartisanship and the paradox of post-September 11 America.”
Trubowitz and Mellow said the extent of bipartisanship depends on factors that include politics.

“How resolutely lawmakers stay the bipartisan course depends on the state of the economy and the depth of regional rivalries. When voters are worried about their pocketbooks and the nation’s politics  is sharply divided along regional lines, bipartisanship over foreign policy suffers,” the article said.

When bipartisanship loses out, it does have an impact on our standing abroad. Nye said, “Other countries are affected by moods in the United States and what they see as the messiness of the process.”

However, Nye added that while partisan politics may be fracturing, not all is lost in terms of foreign standing.

“There is admiration that Americans do disagree and do have a lively democracy,” he said.

Sound bites

Bipartisanship fail:

   
“I want to congratulate my Republican colleagues that they’re not too
old to learn. Because I was in Congress in 2001, ‘02, ‘03, ‘04, ’05, ‘06
— when the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate [and] the White
House, and they pushed things through. There was none of this concern
that one-party rule was a bad thing. Now that they’re not the party,
they’ve decided that that’s a bad idea, and it’s always nice when people
know new things.”
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MAss.) on Meet the Press in 2009 about military spending issue

 “I’ve been left at the altar now a couple of times.”
President Barack Obama, blaming Republicans during failed debt ceiling talks earlier this year
 
“The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.”
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in 2003
 
Bipartisanship bull?
   
“Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans, will stand
shoulder to shoulder to fight this evil that has perpetrated on this
nation. We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought
forth this evil deed will pay the price.”
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Sept. 11, 2001

“I
refuse to accept that while we stand shoulder to shoulder on the war,
we should stand toe to toe on the economy. We need to find a way to
respect each other, trust each other and work together to solve the
long-term challenges America faces.”
Former U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) in January 2002

“I
fully support President Bush’s decision to strike al Qaeda’s terrorist
network. Now, more than ever, we must stand united as a nation and
support our president and our military. It is important to remember that
carefully targeted response is not an attack on a religion, nor a
nation, but an attack on terrorism. In Congress, we will continue to
work with the White House to do what’s needed to bring justice to those
who committed the heinous and evil attacks of 9/11.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in October 2001

 “Let’s show
that the sense of common purpose that we need in America doesn’t have to
be a fleeting moment. It can be a lasting virtue — not just on one day,
but every day.”
President Barack Obama on Aug. 27, 2011


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