- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The fall chill in the air has sadly put the summer reading season to an official end for me. And with its nip, I close Guenter Grass’ latest novel, “Crabwalk.” In it, the German writer and Nobel laureate uses a hard, bottom-dwelling crab as a metaphorical device to describe his country’s history.

Mr. Grass takes us on a journey back in time utilizing the Internet as a vehicle to discover how closely Germany is linked with its past. Through a screen darkly, history zigs then zags back and forth, like a crab that walks backward to move forward.

After I put it down, I got to thinking how Germany is not alone in coming to terms with its past. America too has struggled through divisive wars, slavery and civil rights as it attempts to be the shining city on a hill.

All the while, it has encountered its own share of tumult. But over the last half-century, the political landscape in America has been dichotomized to an unprecedented level into liberal vs. conservative — left or right. Ike or Stevenson. Commie or patriot. Hawk or dove. With us or against us.

The results: In 1960, there was a 62 percent turnout in the general election. In 2002 (an election that decided control of Congress), voter turnout fell below 40 percent, according to TomPaine.com.

In fact, it has been such a turnoff, that voters look to outsiders who will, as Arnold said on Jay Leno’s “Tonight” show, “clean house.”

Interesting term for the Austrian-born Terminator. Not so far from another Germanic politician whose posters once read, “Heads will roll.” I don’t have to tell you who that was, because they did.

And though some may be trying to make Arnold out to be some steroidally cloned, experiment gone haywire, where his twin is not Danny DeVito but that other ranting short guy, due to some recently revived remarks, that’s not the point. Rather, the point is, that in order to be understood and pegged quickly into a box, the media need to categorize an individual into a bite-size bumper sticker — an identifiable brand as clear as any logo on the side of your sneaker.

Candidates who show signs of gray and aren’t plain black or white on issues, get lost. Candidates who then dominate the news are candidates who understand this and are media savvy enough to get it.

There is one big reason for the rise of the campaigns of both Howard Dean and Gen. Wesley Clark. They’re outsiders who are going to show Washington how it’s done.

In 1992, Ross Perot was a businessman who was going to fix the log-jam that was Washington with a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach. He was very good at rattling off all the dysfunctional elements that make up our system of government. He kept looking into the camera while on “Larry King Live” and stating, “It’s your government.” He was a populist who appealed to people in the vast middle who were fed up with the two-party divide.

Furthermore, the pundits who report the play-by-play make the electorate’s alienation manifest. Ann Coulter’s latest polarizing book, “Treason,” uses demonization to paint liberals in the same way Sen. Joe McCarthy used witchhunts to blacklist communists. One simply can’t be a liberal in her view and still love this country. That’s ridiculous. Barry Goldwater loved this country and so did Bobby Kennedy.

Firing back, the liberal comedian Al Franken has penned his own book filled with satirically, laced barbs.

For the majority of the populace, it’s not a left/right issue. Middle America is stuck in the center of a two-party system that resorts to name-calling and divisiveness. And it’s a turnoff.

Yes, we’ve had our own share of dark moments. But without resorting to extremes and working within the intricately designed system of government our Founders created, we always seem to manage our way through periods of doubt.

Nevertheless, back and forth, like the crab we swim against the rough tide. We struggle between opposing currents. But beware, when a rip tide comes — some modern Golem to rescue us from all of the hard work and difficulty the Founders purposely instilled in our system of government — its force may instead sweep us up in its pull and send us out to sea.

Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisener Communications in Baltimore.

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