|by Bill King|
Several days before the battle, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key had been taken prisoner by the British and was confined to one of their ships lying just offshore. Key watched the battle rage through the night and without modern communications, had no idea of the outcome until he saw a huge American flag still waving above the fort in the dawn's early light. His pride in his country's triumph inspired him to write "The Star Spangled Banner."
Seeing this enormous flag (30 feet by 42 feet) only a few feet away from me and thinking about its history gave me goose bumps. While I was looking at the flag, several dozen of my countrymen filed through the viewing area. All seemed to be equally moved in its presence. There were no Democrats or Republicans, no blacks or whites, no Christian or Muslim, just Americans, swelling with pride over the storied history of this flag.
What I witnessed at the State of Union address that night could not have been more different. I am not necessarily referring to the speech itself but rather the circus on the floor during the speech. About every two or three minutes, all of the Democrats in the room would leap to their feet to cheer one of President Obama's lines while the Republicans would sit scowling with their arms crossed. The more partisan the president's line, the more enthusiastic the Democratic response and the more dour the Republican response.
In the last couple of years there have been attempts to get Democratic and Republican members of Congress to sit together, but the efforts have been largely unsuccessful. With some notable exceptions, such as Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, sitting with Rep. Gabby Giffords, the two parties' seating was mostly segregated. As a result, members in about half of the room kept jumping to their feet while the members in the other half sat on their hands. The whole spectacle could not have been more sophomoric.
There were a few moments that united the room. The longest and loudest applause from every corner of the room came when Giffords entered the chamber. The parties also rose in applause together when the president praised our troops. But those moments were exceptions.
Near the end of the president's speech, he said, "When we act together, there is nothing the United States of America can't achieve." It was one of the few lines of the speech that brought the entire chamber to its feet. But after an hour of watching the partisan reactions, the words, while grand, seemed hollow.
During my visits around the Capitol before and after the address, I repeatedly heard how we should not expect much until after the election on the major issues facing the country. On issue after issue, I heard that the parties are just too deeply divided to find much consensus. Both parties apparently believe that in the election to come, Americans will give them some kind of a mandate to push their agendas.
But what if they do not? What if Americans refuse to endorse either of the views that dominate the parties? What if voters once again decide to return divided government to Washington because the thought of either party being totally in control scares them to death? Do we then have to wait until 2014 to tackle the problems facing our country? And if not then, 2016? 2018? 2020?
In the same day I saw a symbol of America's past, one of unity of purpose and vision, and one of America today, a state of disunion. The question is which will represent America's future.
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