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On The Issues: One Nation, Divisible?

BOSTON (CBS) - "It's one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," President Barack Obama told the nation in his final State of the Union address earlier this year.

Read: 'On The Issues' – Where The Candidates Stand

And poll after poll shows voters are sick of the partisan polarization that has gridlocked Washington.

"No shortage of the blame belongs to the elites in both parties," says Boston College political science professor Marc Landy. Landy is an expert on the American presidency and co-author of the textbook "American Government: Balancing Liberty And Democracy."

He sees evidence of the widening divide in the support for Donald Trump on the right.

"They feel marginalized and alienated, they're damn mad and they're acting up," Landy told WBZ-TV.

And Bernie Sanders on the left.

"The sort of moderate liberalism of Clinton and Obama has embittered them," said Landy.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING

"Believe it or not, I am a unifier," Trump said at a recent rally.

"If we're Americans rather than Republicans and Democrats we can get together and we can solve all of these problems," John Kasich said at a CNN debate.

"I am a progressive who likes to get things done," Hillary Clinton told the audience at a debate in Florida.

While Sanders promised - "What my first days are about is bringing America together."

WHAT THEY'RE DOING

The candidates claim they'll do better. But for now, proof is scarce.

If and when Trump demonstrates unifying skills, it will be in sharp contrast with a campaign that has repeatedly exploited divisions.

"You've all made a few people upset over the years. Which enemy are you most proud of?" Sanders and Clinton were asked at a recent CNN debate.

While Clinton boasts of working across the aisle in the Senate, she went right for the partisan red meat in that question.

"Probably the Republicans," she replied, laughing.

In an annual ranking of bi-partisan behavior among 98 senators. Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz ranked last and next-to-last respectively.
Marco Rubio ranked 28th. And in her last year in the Senate, Clinton ranked 76th.

keller on the issues
(WBZ-TV graphic)

"It's not clear what the grounds for reunifying the country would be when there are such deep differences of opinion," Landy said.

But Joe Mathieu of WBZ NewsRadio 1030 notes the abject failure of Obama to even slow the political culture's deterioration.

It chewed the president up and spat him out and Mathieu said we should be worried about that happening again.

"Voters always say this - we want people to get along, we want to be productive, we want the two sides to come together," Mathieu said.

JON KELLER'S ANALYSIS:

First, some perspective: bitter partisanship and ideological conflict are nothing new in Washington. At least we don't have duels, canings on the floor of the Senate, and other extreme examples of political division from our nation's past.

But there's no question things are bad down there. George W. Bush's campaign vow of a "compassionate conservatism" that would reach across the aisle vanished after 9/11, as he questioned his opponents' patriotism during vitriolic campaigns in 2002 and 2004; Barack Obama's promises of healing the red state/blue state divide were naïve, and quickly disappeared as he rammed Obamacare through Congress on a strict party-line vote.

Who seriously thinks things will improve after the train wreck 2016 campaign is over?

One source of hope for the future: the baby-boomers currently in power, so intent on fulfilling their destiny as a supremely narcissistic, uncompromising "me" generation, are aging out, soon to be replaced by new generations that will hopefully try to repair the damage.

Until then, buckle up – the divisiveness and arrogance that promotes gridlock and prohibits compromise is going to get worse before it gets better.

IN DEPTH: CANDIDATE POSITIONS:

HILLARY CLINTON

"Q: So, the world was astonished at the generosity of the forgiving statements made by family members whose family were killed in the Charleston massacre at Emanuel Church, and just two days after, at the bond hearing. And, you know, it helped our city heal. You were there; you saw that. Led to a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, which is extraordinary. And, you know, one of the things I want to ask you is, why do you think that forgiveness is so rarely an action that we take, especially in terms of violent conflict? And, you know, how could you, as president, harness the power of forgiveness, in terms of helping heal all the division in our own country and beyond?

CLINTON: That's a great question. You know, I could not be standing here if I had not been forgiven many times and if I had not been able to forgive myself those who I thought had in some way disappointed or wronged me. So I, as a person of faith, believe profoundly in the power of forgiveness, and we need to do more to try to take that value, that experience.

The best example I know of it, in modern times, is the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa. You know, I was very fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with Nelson Mandela. I know Bishop Tutu, I know others who were part of that process. It was just an astonishing leap of faith to bring together those who had been oppressed by apartheid, often physically abused, imprisoned, members of families whose loved ones had been murdered, with their oppressors, their abusers, their murderers, in a process that truly was a national effort to try to forgive enough that the country could be held together, that the nation could be born, that the work could begin.

And it was to me a stunning example of what is possible. I think there's a lot that we could do in this country if we could figure out how to harness those feelings. And I see so much anger and fear and bitterness.

Some of it's being played out in our political system right now. The kind of language that's being used, violent images, threats again people, it is deeply troubling to me because we have to try to unite our country, not divide it if we're going to deal with a lot of the challenges that we face.

So I would very much consider if there were a formal way and, if not, what we could do to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation to try to begin bringing people together from different backgrounds, obviously different races, different ethnicities, and every other of the wonderful mosaic that makes up our country so that people could begin once again to kind of see themselves in the other's life.

Maybe the old saying, walking in someone else's shoes, because I think that's essential to sort of nurture the ground out of which forgiveness and reconciliation and unity could come.

I think it's one of our biggest challenges. And I hope that we -- I hope we find ways to try to address it. And I will certainly give it as much thought as I can and try as president to think of ways to lead that."

BERNIE SANDERS

"CUOMO: Senator? Two things. First one is you said in Iowa, "I do not represent the interests of the very wealthy."

If you're President of the United States, you have to represent everybody, don't you?

Do you believe that there is a risk of seeming device in a statement like that.

SANDERS: Divisive? You know?

CUOMO: You can use any word you want instead.

SANDERS: This is what -- when you have the 20 wealthiest people in this country owning more wealth than the bottom 150 million people, when you have a handful of billionaires spending hundred of millions of dollars trying to buy elections, and represent candidates and have candidates elected to represent the wealthy, and the powerful. Frankly, Chris, I think we need a movement in this country. And, no individual can do it alone.

A political revolution which says to the billionaire class, A, your greed has gone a long way to destroy our economy.

And, second of all, you can't have it all. This country belongs to all of us, not a handful. I will take them own."

Source: transcripts.cnn.com

TED CRUZ

"I think every candidate ought to aspire towards civility, towards decency, towards bringing us together. I don't think we should be using angry and hateful rhetoric. I don't think we should be cursing at people. And I'll tell you, listen, I've been troubled. I mentioned at the debate this week. I'm troubled by the rallies that Donald holds, where he asks all the people there to raise their hand and pledge their support to him.

This is America. We don't pledge allegiance to a man. We pledge allegiance to a flag. We pledge our support for the Constitution. But that is something that you see kings and queens doing of their subjects. And all of this is part and parcel of the same thing. We need a president who understands he works for the people. Listen, I am running to pledge my support to you, not the other way around. And I hope that all of the candidates reflect that understanding.

CHUCK TODD: I want you to react to something here that President Obama said at a fundraiser, responding to the tone of Donald Trump rallies. Here it is, sir.
(BEGIN TAPE)
PRESIDENT OBAMA:
And what's been happening in our politics lately is not an accident. For years, we've been told we should be angry about America and that the economy's a disaster. And that we're weak. And that compromise is weakness. And that you can ignore science and you could ignore facts and say whatever you want about the president. And feed suspicion about immigrants and Muslims and poor people and people who aren't like us.
(END TAPE)
CHUCK TODD:
That's the president essentially saying, "This has been happening for years," before most of his term.

SEN. TED CRUZ:
You know, Chuck, Barack Obama's a world class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us. No, Mr. President, we're not angry at that. We're angry at politicians in Washington, including you, who ignore the men and women who elected you. Who have been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years.
Who have been cutting deals that are enriching the rich and powerful, the special interests and the big corporations, while working men and women are seeing their wages stagnating. And he talks about immigrants and Muslims. Mr. President, we're mad at a president who wants to bring in Syrian refugees who may be infiltrated by ISIS. And you're unwilling to be commander in chief and keep us safe. So don't engage in attacking the people, like the president did. I'll tell you, that language is the kind of self-righteous—

CHUCK TODD:
All right.

SEN. TED CRUZ:
--moralizing from the President that makes people angry.

CHUCK TODD:
You think that's worse than what Donald Trump's been doing?

SEN. TED CRUZ:
To be honest, I think it's very much the same. They're both engaging in demagoguery. We need instead a president who wakes up every day working for the hardworking taxpayers. If I'm president, Chuck, my focus is going to be the hardworking taxpayers, bringing back jobs and economic growth.
We're going to do that by repealing Obamacare, by passing a simple flat tax. By abolishing the IRS, by pulling back the regulations that are killing small businesses. "

Source: nbcnews.com

JOHN KASICH

"TAPPER: Governor Kasich, do you worry about the scenes of violence at some of these rallies affecting the Republican party's chances in November?

KASICH: Well, I worry about the violence at a rally period. I mean, it's -- you know, elections are important but the unity of this country really matters.

Jake, here's what I think is happening. There are people out there who are worried about their jobs. They're worried that somebody is going to come in and tell them they're out of work and they're 54 years old and they don't know where they're going to get another job, a man and a woman.

Maybe they're worried about a trade deal. They're worried about the fact that their wages haven't gone up. They're worried that their kids went to college and the promise was, you go to college, you get a job, things are going to be great.

They went to college, they rang up debt and they're still living in their parents' basement. People are uptight. Our seniors are worried they're going to lose their Social Security. There's two ways to treat it.

You can either prey on that and be negative about it, or you tell people that these things can be fixed. If we're Americans rather than Republicans and Democrats, we get together, we can solve all of these problems.

We can provide financial security, we can drive the wages up, we can get kids jobs with a more robust economy.

And you know what? They want to help solve these problems right where they live and I'll give them the power to do it….

My record speaks for itself. What I talk about tonight is not a theory. These are things that I've done. I was there when we reformed the Pentagon on a bipartisan basis to give control to the commanders in the field and force the services to work together. I was the chief architect, along with Senator Domenici, of the last time we balanced the budget and the first time since we walked on the moon. I was there when I worked on the welfare reform in Washington. And we got it done and we eliminated the entitlement on welfare,

I then went to Ohio and took Ohio from a basket case, working in a bipartisan basis to reform many things, including the Cleveland public schools, working with a Democratic mayor.

My problem isn't that people don't know this. They say, well, what does that mean? Does that mean you're too easy? Well, let me tell you, when we did the balanced budget, we cut the capital gains tax, we provided a family tax credit, we shrunk the government.

In my state, the state of Ohio, has the smallest government in the state of Ohio in 30 years. Conservative principles will work. But show respect to the other side.

One final thing, in regard to Social Security, we will not get that done alone. We will have to have some responsible Democrats who will come in to fix the problem of Social Security. I know how to do it because I've done it and I'll do it again."

MARCO RUBIO

"DINAN: At the last debate, you mocked Mr. Trump for being flexible. With so much gridlock in Washington, how can you expect to lead the country and get things done if you aren't willing to show flexibility?

RUBIO: Well, I think you can be flexible about ideas, you shouldn't be flexible about your principles. About when it comes to ideas and working with people, I have a record of having done that.

Listen, on the issue of higher education, I'm the only one that continually talks about student loan debt because I owed over $100,000 of student loan debt. So I know this is a major issue. And all my ideas that deal with higher education are bipartisan.

The VA Accountability Act that I passed I did it on a -- on a bipartisan basis. The sanctions that I helped -- that I imposed on Hezbollah I did it on a bipartisan basis. The Girls Count Act that deals with human trafficking, we did that on a bipartisan basis.

But I also want to be frank. There are issues we're going to have to have an election over. When it comes to repealing and replaces Obamacare, that's not going to be bipartisan. When it comes to reducing the tax burdens on Americans, that's not going to be bipartisan. When it comes to shrinking the size of the federal bureaucracy, that's probably not going to be bipartisan.

There are issues we can work together on and we should, but there are fundamental issues about the proper role of government. And on those issues, I will fight anyone who wants to expand government, raise taxes, or weaken our military."

DONALD TRUMP

"DINAN: All right. Mr. Trump, I want to give you a chance to respond, but specifically you talked about flexibility and one of the examples you gave was the height of the border fence. What are some of the other issues on which you're willing to show flexibility?

TRUMP: It depends on what comes up. You never know. It depends on what comes up. Look, look, we had a great president, Ronald Reagan. We had Tip O'Neill, speaker. And what do we do, we take these two men that are very, very different men, they got along, they had relationships, and they got things, and very beautifully.

Nobody is complaining about the deals that Ronald Reagan made. And he made it with Tip O'Neill. We need to have people get together and work good deals out, good deals out from our standpoint. And I'll tell you this, it can be done.

We don't want to continue to watch people signing executive orders because that was not what the Constitution and the brilliant designers of this incredible document had in mind. We need people that can make deals and can work, because right now in Washington there's total, absolute gridlock."

Source: transcripts.cnn.com

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