Commentary by ABC Analyst Matthew Dowd:
It is often amusing to watch sporting events with fans of opposing teams. They wear their team’s jerseys and scream and yell on behalf of there home allegiance. They see all the games and plays through the prism of their fan support of their team. They yell at refs for bad calls against their team, they get upset when they think the opposing team is playing dirty, and have a real hard time accepting when their team does not play well or loses.
Watching President Obama’s most bad awful week, and the flurry of accusations flying back and forth, I am reminded of two opposing sports teams. It seems how wrong someone is or the level of scandal or incompetence involved totally depends on which jersey each team is wearing. For much of the population and commentators their allegiance to a specific party is first and foremost, and it is through this prism they judge what is going on in our politics.
Today, if someone has an “R” on their jersey then they see scandal and abuse at every turn in the White House and by Democrats. They are quick to jump to the “Watergate” word for Benghazi and the IRS abuse situation when most rational people know the comparison between what is going on today and what happened with Richard Nixon is extremely thin at best.
Republicans throw barbs and overly-inflated rhetoric at President Obama on things they quickly ignored during the Bush Presidency. But because Obama is a member of the opposing team what he is doing is obviously perilous and wrong, and puts the country at significant risk. And any media outlet or journalist that doesn’t agree with the Republican accusation is somehow in cahoots with the Obama “team”. And that is why certain Republicans can throw so easily around the I word – not incompetence, but impeachment.
And on the Democratic side because President Obama is a member of their team, Democrats (and left leaning media) excuse behavior that would have caused them (and did cause them) to go apoplectic under George Bush and Dick Cheney. Can you imagine how Democrats would have reacted if the Bush administration had done the same things the Obama administration seems to have been involved in? They too would be throwing around the Watergate comparisons and the word impeachment. But today many Democrats are quick to excuse conduct by President Obama, that when done by President Bush, they’d see as an assault on the constitution and a misuse of power.
It is interesting to me that in 2004 every time Bush or the campaign brought up terrorism or terrorists, he was accused by Democrats of using the word for political purposes and to win the election. And now Republicans are saying that in 2012 in the aftermath of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, President Obama wouldn’t and didn’t use the word terrorist or terrorism for political purposes and to win an election. It is ironic that depending on what side of the stadium you are on the use or nonuse of some words becomes a political football.
Further, Mark Sanford’s recent election in South Carolina also struck me as ironic. He was basically elected in a solid Republican district by partisans who overlooked character issues and moral behavior that they would never overlook in Democrats. They did so because Sanford had the same letter on his jersey. And the same is true for Democrats when they have re-elected congressman plagued by scandals. They were on the same team.
Political scientists, and many of us in the media who analyze politics, are going to have to go back to the drawing board in order to examine how many Americans utilize party allegiance. It used to be that we understood party allegiance came in the aftermath of a thoughtful process of issue positions and character insights. Today, issue positions and character insights and how we judge behavior come after many voters and officials have decided what political team they are on. Once they wear the team jersey, then they form their judgments and evaluations of their own side and the opposing team.
When certain media outlets become the mega phone for each opposing team the biggest casualty is the search for the truth. The “truth” isn’t seen as a goal, but rather as a tool to be used to bludgeon the opposing team.
This development in our politics of many leaders and voters seeing the world and issues through a partisan lens has caused America to head toward becoming a broken democracy. It is not good for a search for the truth, our overall discourse or for governing.
I have a suggestion. Maybe we all should take our team jerseys off for a second and see how we might perceive the world today, the policies needed and how we might differently react to the events of today and what we might think the truth is. Yes, President Obama and his administration have definitely had some awful lapses recently and made some big mistakes, but maybe the corrective decisions should come from a place where neither side is wearing a team jersey. Or we could take off the “D” jersey and the “R” jersey and realize we all have an American made t-shirt on underneath.