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Wednesday, Oct 29, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

We are a house divided

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There was no letup in the finger-pointing as venom splashed all over the network television talk shows and social media sites this weekend as the misery that is Iraq collapsed on the screens in front of us.

Before last week how many of you even had heard of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant? My bet is most of us would have said ISIL is a terror group that James Bond infiltrated on some hidden island in the Mediterranean back in the ’70s.

The fact it is a Sunni jihad movement that appears to be sweeping across the Middle East apparently has come as something of a surprise to our government and everyone else.

Iraq, a nation-state carefully built on smoke, mirrors and thousands of American lives, seemingly fell apart as the next chapter of this tragedy flared up with a relentless flurry of death and refugees dragging across the desert to who knows where one more time.

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The sudden collapse of the government in major regions was never really a surprise, except perhaps how flimsy the Shia-backed government that we so eagerly backed with our money and the lives of our brightest and best appears to be.

Neither was the political firestorm in our country that is only beginning to fan out of control.

It didn’t take much. The ever-expanding gulf separating left from right never has been broader. It has reached the point that you risk your credentials on either side if you as much as share a meal — not to mention an idea — with the opposition. It’s little wonder nothing is happening in government when neither side can do anything acceptable to the other.

That’s our federal government and apparently also the way it is in more local governments these days.

It’s not just the global disasters, such as what’s happening in the Middle East or Russia’s incursions into Ukraine. It’s anything and everything requiring debate and compromise or even civil discussion.

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Ironically it was on this very day — June 16, 1858 — that Abraham Lincoln delivered his “house divided” speech upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination to run for the United States Senate. He would lose that one.

Although the speech was about slavery and preserving the union, it was his line, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” that resonates today on the anniversary of his remarks.

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved,” he said. “I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”

We have the hindsight of history to know he was right in believing a house divided would not survive — and, unfortunately, wrong in maintaining it would not happen.

Is it possible that, on the anniversary of that speech, the divisions are as deep today in a nation where the gulf between two sides has grown and good men and women who would try to bridge that gulf are attacked?

I do believe we are in a crisis and it has less to do with terrorists in the Middle East or refugees coming across our southern borders than it does our inability to get our house in order, and at least have a civil debate and move on.

sotto@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7809

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