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A Divided Nation

American inaugurals are joyful occasions because they look forward. They are about possibilities, goals, a calling to our better selves. But last week I found myself looking back, and not always with joy. Maybe it was the irony of all those metal detectors and police that were necessary in order for the president to make a speech about helping others to be free. Or maybe it was hearing the Republican crowd boo John Kerry and knowing the Democrats would probably have done the same to George Bush, because we remain a country so bitterly divided that rudeness and intolerance stain every corner of our culture.

Why has it come to that? Perhaps it has something to do with the way we conducted this election. John Kerry believed he had no chance in the heartland, so he ignored the voters there. For the same reason, George Bush made no real effort in states where Kerry was favored. So we did not have a national election this time. We allowed seven or eight so-called battleground states to pick our president for us. The emphasis of both campaigns was on motivating their core supporters in those states. Neither side really reached out; thus, opinion did not change, but hardened. Had Kerry won, it would have been no different.

Until Democrats again take their case to the heartland, until Republicans at least try to craft a message that has some appeal beyond their conservative base, we will remain a divided nation where finding consensus, needed to accomplish anything, is all but impossible. I find no joy in that.

By Bob Schieffer