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Our politicians should be ashamed of themselves

In the wake of Paris and amid the Syrian refugee crisis, political leaders call us to our basest selves by stressing fear and division.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham LincolnRead more

CURRENT AND would-be political leaders ought to be ashamed.

I mean, even more so than usual. Let me tell you why.

Last week was the anniversary of Lincoln's 1864 Gettysburg Address.

It was a short speech. We're created equal. We need to preserve government of, by and for the people. A speech, in other words, aimed at unifying the nation.

This is the week of Thanksgiving, an American holiday whose date varied from state to state until set by Lincoln in an 1864 proclamation - aimed at unifying the nation.

(Lincoln made it the last Thursday in November; FDR, in 1941, made it the fourth Thursday in November.)

Lincoln's unifying efforts came during a dark period of our history.

I bring them up because we're in another dark period and I don't see leaders or wannabe leaders offering lights of unification.

What I see are self-aggrandizers patronizing political bases, pushing xenophobia and other issues and attitudes intended to divide us.

Need examples?

How about President Obama in the wake of the Paris massacres, in the midst of the Syrian refugee crisis, using his platform to go after Republicans?

He said they're "the same folks who suggested they're so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL" can fix our problems, "but apparently they're scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States . . . that doesn't sound very tough to me."

That doesn't sound very unifying to me. More like ducking accountability for past and present policy that spawned ISIS and other groups and allows them to survive.

How about GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie lashing out at Secretary of State John Kerry for saying that there's a difference between the attack last January on the French weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and recent attacks in Paris, and telling Kerry to just "shut up"?

Why? Because that's just how classy Christie is? Because political points are more important than attempts at American unity?

How about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claiming during an October debate that she's proud "the Republicans" are her enemies?

Think that helps unite the country now or if she's president?

Where are leaders putting the nation ahead of political interests?

Republican Sens. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, and Roy Blunt, of Missouri, are fundraising off their opposition to taking in Syrian refugees.

Give me money and I'll keep you safe.

Ah, fear, the great motivator of politics. Fear and division. Watch it spread. Watch it grow. Watch it permeate the presidential race.

Ben Carson compares refugees to rabid dogs. Mike Huckabee suggests they'll "come in here and bomb neighborhoods."

Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush say let only Christians in. John Kasich wants to create a new government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values.

And Donald Trump, who may want to register and ID Muslims, will build a 1,900-mile wall to keep out Mexican rapists.

Yes, let's unify against all that isn't us. Forget that more Mexicans are leaving the U.S. than entering (according to data just released by the Pew Research Center), and that Syrians seeking entry are overwhelmingly women, children and families.

Forget that it was the U.S. that intervened in Bosnia in the 1990s and stopped the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Muslims killed for their religion.

Forget facts. Forget offering real solutions. Keep 'em out, kick 'em out, no matter what that statue in New York Harbor says.

And it's working. In September, a Pew poll showed that more than half of Americans polled supported accepting more Syrian refugees. Now an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a majority (54 percent) opposes such action.

Politicians know their voting base. It's open to overhyped fearmongering. It's willing to judge on the basis of 140 Twitter characters. And it's easy to divide, because that's how it lives.

So, current and would-be political leaders appeal to our lowest common denominators rather than, as Lincoln urged, "the better angels of our nature."

And they ought to be ashamed.