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Washington Notebook: An America Divided

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This year America is commemorating the 150th Anniversary of The Civil War.

Once again this great nation seems to be painfully divided.

The political and social upheaval that is marking this anniversary is taking shape in possibly the most contentious election year climate since Reconstruction.

In that time Americans struggled with both the end of slavery and a conflict that pitted brother against brother and divided the nation.

Today as Americans struggle to get a handel on exactly who they are and want they want they are consumed by an overwhelming sense of social upheaval and economic desperation.

New social norms are on the verge of replacing old ones and some Americans are committed to exhausting their last breath to fight against the changing attitudes of younger generations.

Across all economic and social divides citizens share just one commonality - they are yearning for strong leadership to put things right again for themselves, their families and their country.

This yearning may be part of the reason that President Obama is suffering from his lowest approval ratings ever.

The Democrats and Independents who supported President Obama in 2008 wanted real change.

However, they were not prepared for the economic Tsunami that hit the U.S. and world economies just as President Obama took office.

As a result they expected dramatic change to already be underway and....it simply isn't.

The actions taken by the Obama Administration may have saved the U.S. economy from cascading into the abyss but for so many it appears like it is hanging on by a slender thread.

Americans do not see the "Yes We Can" change that was promised anywhere on the horizon and they are looking for a speedy remedy to their misery.

Each time the country looked to this President to lead on the financial recovery, health care or the debt crisis it seemed as though all the heavy lifting was being done by Congress with the President orchestrating off stage.

Although President Obama passed more legislation than many have done in their entire presidency, since the mid-terms when the Republicans won control of the House, the President has lost his ability to control the legislative agenda.

With the House under Republican control and the Democratic Senate requiring a 60 vote majority, the President cannot look to Congress for answers.

It is a re-election year and it is not in the best interest of the Republicans to do anything that might make President Obama look good. As a result Republicans in Congress seem content to keep their arms folded while watching a frustrated and powerless president rail against them.

Even the Democrats may not be on his side if a compromise would put them at political risk and require them to give up one their sacred cows.

In such perilous times people in democracies look for strong and decisive leaders like Reagan, Roosevelt, DeGaulle, Thatcher or Churchill.

Today there is a brewing class war between the "haves" and the "have nots" and neither are doing as well as they think they should.

The "haves" are adamantly opposed to any increases in taxes. They view this as redistribution of their wealth and a price they are not willing to pay this price to live in a civilized society.

The "have nots" yearn for a time when unions were strong and unskilled jobs were plentiful and paid enough to raise a family. Ironically, "have nots" are also opposed to taxes but rely heavily on government assistance which is paid for with these same tax dollars. They also do not want any cuts in Medicare or Social Security.

Lately the sacred "American Dream" where each generation does better than the last seems more like an impossible dream.

The things that matter to the supporters of the liberal agenda - environmental issues, women's rights, gay rights and immigration reform - seem like luxuries to the ranks of the long term unemployed who would do anything for the chance at a job that could feed their family and put a roof over their heads.

These concerns, frustrations and desires are finding a voice in the candidates vying for the Republican 2012 presidential nomination.

This may very well be another change election.

The American's people's desire to head in a different direction than their current course may dictate that!

They know the old rules of the game simply don't apply now and they are eager to follow a leader who will show them the way back to prosperity.

Although Mitt Romney seems to fit the bill for traditional Republican fiscal conservatives with his Wall Street bona fides, he is missing the fire and brimstone appeal needed to ignite and enthuse the religious right and the Tea Party.

On the other hand, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann with her "titanium spine" - seems to be a natural choice to fill this role.

Bachmann who placed first in the Iowa Straw Poll is anti-gay, pro-life and a true blue Tea Party Champion. She also was vehemently opposed raising the debt ceiling on principle.

Unlike Romney, she knows exactly what to say to appeal to the Tea Party and conservative base while terrifying Wall Street and the Democrats.

Up to now Bachmann has been filling a very particular space - she has been appealing to all the disaffected Republicans - Tea Party, Evangelical Christians and libertarians who are both anti- government and anti- Obama.

Although Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll by narrowly edging out Representative Ron Paul and ending the presidential hopes of her fellow Minnesotan and former Governor Tim Pawlenty, she may already be under the shadow of the latest entrant into the race.

This week when Republicans front runners thought it was safe to enter the corral, Lone Star State - Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race and now both Bachmann and Romney are in for some real bronco bustin'.

Although Romney is still the front-runner, his cash and business experience may not be enough to "best" this charismatic Texas pol who is able to deliver the "red meat" to both his base and the business community.

Perry appeals to the same groups as Bachmann with sterling Christian conservative credentials however he also knows how to talk to the Wall Street and K Street Good Ol' Boys.

He blows away all the other Republican candidates on the executive experience level as the longest serving Governor of Texas which is one of the few states that has experienced job growth during this economic downturn.

However some of Perry's views were not main stream prior to his candidacy he suggested Texas might secede from the Union - echoing the Civil War.

On his maiden campaign swing in Iowa, Perry suggested that Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke would be committing an act of treason if he printed more money between now and November 2012. Statements challenging the independence of the Federal Reserve like this are not likely to sit well with his Wall Street boys.

If he is able to moderate his views and attract enough independents, Perry may be able to put together that winning business and religious coalition that previous Texas Governor GW Bush used to sweep into the White House.

All this leaves President Obama and the Democrats scratching their heads from the sidelines and wondering just how they can hold on to their base and win back sagging independent support with 14 months to go.

Its not just single votes that are at risk but without an enthusiastic support operation - no matter how much cash the Obama Campaign can throw into media buys - getting out the vote for this president could be a daunting task.

The challenge for the President Obama now is to use all his powers as president and make some bold moves to strike a decisive blow and render the Republicans helpless.

This seems unlikely since the last missed opportunity was during the crisis over the raising the debt ceiling. The president could have gained the upper hand by pulling a Lincolnesque move, using the 14th Amendment argument, to raise it on his own - leaving the Republican controlled House without leverage and on their knees.

Where does a divided America go from here?

Who will its citizens choose to be their next leader?

Will a divided Congress and a battle-worn president find common ground for the common good?

During this Civil War Remembrance Year, as a nation America looks back 150 years and hears the somber words of Abraham Lincoln - "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

This can also be read on Sky News