Historians often refer to the period in American history from 1815 to 1825 as the Era of Good Feelings. During this decade, the nasty squabbles of the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans subsided; the divisive debates over the issues of the day -- slavery, war, tariffs, the Second National Bank -- had, for the moment, disappeared. President James Monroe enjoyed sustained popularity and bipartisan support few chief executives have known.
On election night, President-elect Barack Obama peppered his victory speech with words of humility and cooperation. He urged his followers to "resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long." The gathered throngs in Grant Park approved enthusiastically. We will surely hear much about "unity" and "coming together" in the coming weeks and days; our media will breathlessly await the coming epoch.
Given all this, observers might deduce we are headed towards a second coming of the Era of Good Feelings. However, it would require a mild case of amnesia for anyone who has been paying attention to our national dialogue since 2001 to believe this.
The past eight years have not merely been partisan, but full of dangerous and unhinged hatred for President George W. Bush. And the engine of much of that bile were the men and women in the crowd at Grant Park, the rank and file of the next president's party, and the compliant media who did so much to destroy Bush and deify Obama.
Those who will now ask for bipartisanship are also those who waited in line to see Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (which alleged Bush's complicity in 9/11) or Oliver Stone's W (which painted Bush as Jesus-loving doofus with a serious case of daddy envy) or even Gabriel Range's Death of a President (which played out the left's fever dream of Bush's assassination on the big screen).
They are the same people who slapped "Bush knew about 9/11", "1/20/09 -- the End of an Error" or "Not My President" bumper stickers to the back of their Volvos. They are the same individuals who accused Bush of stealing the 2000 election in Florida and the 2004 election in Ohio.
Those who will now call for us to move beyond division are the ones who bought copies of venomous anti-Bush tomes such as The I Hate George W. Reader, The Bush Hater's Handbook, or Nicholson Baker's novel Checkpoint (whose main character, plotting Bush's assassination, concludes, "I'm going to kill that bastard").
The advocacy journalists, who gush over the coming non-ideological age of Obama, are also the scribes who attacked Bush for the duration of his presidency. They are the ones who gave us a legacy of journalism that includes the New Republic's "The Case for Bush Hatred" and the Rolling Stone's "Worst President in History."
Those who urge us to look beyond party and support the next president are the ones who nodded approvingly when San Francisco attempted to name a sewage plant after the sitting president.
They are the actors, musicians, and entertainers who littered our public space with infantile attacks on Bush. And they are the people so many of us have met and known, from work to school, or seen and overheard in public spaces who have cruelly prefaced or followed their comments about their own president with words such as Nazi, dictator, evil, racist, hate and even kill.
After nearly a decade of this toxic behavior, they now ask us to join hands in supporting the new president.
At least one Republican has obliged that request. On Wednesday morning, Bush publicly offered Obama his best wishes. The occasion was most likely melancholy for a president whose own party (from which he has been increasingly shunned) had been crushed by the opposition for a second consecutive election. Looking at his face, it was clear the struggles and disappointments of the past few years have taken their physical toll. But there he was, the most maligned man in the world, delivering an elegant and gracious congratulations to his successor -- who rode to the White House in no small part by relentlessly attacking Bush and his "failures."
Given the hoopla surrounding Obama's election and his coming administration, it will probably be a little noted moment in the whirlwind of history we have been living in. Nor will it be noticed by the Bush haters during their ongoing ecstasy over the change of the guard at the White House. Yet, opponents of Obama should take note of Bush's words and the left's current plea for bipartisanship.
The next four years will surely provide ample opportunities for criticism of the incoming president. And, in staggering contrast to the Bush haters, the new opposition should provide that criticism in a thoughtful and civil way. The national discourse does not need any further degrading.
But rest assured, in the coming years critics of President Obama will be blamed for breaking our national unity, accused of being unpatriotic, or told to keep quiet lest we divide the country and disrupt the second Era of Good Feelings. When such accusations are made, always remember these past eight years. Never forget who exactly shattered the unity, who behaved unpatriotically, and who did the dividing.
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