After two political conventions in two weeks, I get it. The twain shall never meet because the parties would go out of business. They are unions for politicians, advocating for them and them only.
My hunt for the American political center was fruitless because I was looking in all the wrong places. Denver and St. Paul were polar opposites, right down to the music and delegate chants.
It was Stevie Wonder vs. Chuck Berry, "yes we can" vs. "U-S-A."
It's as though somebody took a knife and cut our political soul in two and distributed half to each side. It's either a great country with challenges or a total mess that needs a complete do-over. Take your pick, but you can only have one view. No nuance allowed. Be angry and righteous or be gone.
Barack Obama and John McCain are smart, good men with compelling personal stories. But as they seek the most powerful job in the world, they're captive to a system that grinds up our better angels with competing claims of superiority. The certainty the election will again reflect a polarized people speaks well of nobody.
Those of us in the real world put up with differences because we have to. The professional political class has seceded from that world and lives in a parallel universe where only suckers cooperate.
How we got to the point is less important than what we do about it now. No matter who wins in November, if Washington doesn't start pulling in the direction of the common good, the country will stay as gridlocked as it is. Somehow, we've got to force our leaders to work together to solve the biggest problems.
We could start by eliminating the political conventions which, since the nominees are picked through primaries, serve merely as echo chambers for the party line and a chance for pols and lobbyists to swap favors. The point of the conventions is to lay out a plan for conquer by dividing, which is great if you're an invading army but disheartening when it's your own country.
Neither party even attempted to seriously address Problem No. 1 - the fundamental weakness of the economy as illustrated by Friday's report of the spike in unemployment. Maybe they don't know what to do. But until we figure it out, the standard of living for 95% of our population is at risk.
Is there any good news? Yes, I found general agreement on 1-1/2 things. The half agreement is that, while they have wildly different views on Iraq, Obama and McCain are committed to defeating the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. This is real progress on a key security issue.
The one major area where I found a near total consensus is that we've got to dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Obama and McCain sound like T. Boone Pickens, who calculates we're shipping about $700 billion a year to other countries to feed our addiction. They promise their own version of the Manhattan Project to radically change our energy policies, which have huge implications for our economy, security and environment.
Of course, even this consensus comes with differences. McCain, like Pickens, believes we should drill for more oil offshore, while Obama doesn't. And McCain is more bullish on nuclear power than Obama.
But those differences are about the details of how we solve the problem rather than whether we have a problem, so energy policy would be a great place to start the new administration in January.
Imagine it: The next President pledges to enlist the best people in America, no matter what party they belong to, to solve the crisis. The unified approach might begin a revolution as people start believing they can actually make a difference in other areas as well, instead of just taking sides.