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2011年1月29日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 27
EDITORIAL: State of the Union

American coins are inscribed with the motto "E pluribus unum," a Latin phrase meaning "Out of many, one." It derives from the United States' fight for independence from Britain, and the unity of the 13 colonies that founded the nation. Now, however, it has a broader connection to the idea that the United States is made up of people from diverse racial and religious backgrounds.

U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to be aiming at a regeneration of that spirit of unity in the State of the Union address Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Obama administration, which took power two years ago promising to deliver change, has passed the halfway mark of its current term. In last year's midterm election, his Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat to the Republican Party, which now holds a majority in the House of Representatives.

In the State of the Union address, Obama once again called for nonpartisanship, appealing to all parts of the political spectrum to realize that there is no realistic option other than to work together. In the context of the history of the United States, this represents much more than empty political rhetoric.

Since the 1960s, American society has seen strong reactions among conservatives to the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, feminism, and other waves of change. Those clashes have embroiled the country in a "culture war." The rift between conservatives and liberals has grown, and Congress, where bipartisan compromise had once been a matter of course, has turned into a battleground of fundamentalisms. The grass-roots conservative Tea Party movement has spread across the nation. Radio talk shows and the Internet are amplifying the hatred.

The president, who was born to a white mother and an African father, tried to position himself as "a bridge" linking different ideas and cultures. However, the health-care reform bill on which he staked his administration's fate has been labeled as "socialist." It barely made it onto the statute book, and then only after a significant revisions. There are no signs of the rift in U.S. politics narrowing. Discord peaked with the shooting of a Democrat congresswoman in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month. Some liberals have blamed radical speech by the conservatives. Conservatives have hit back at liberals, saying they are using a crime by a mentally disturbed person for political gain.

A speech by the president mourning the shooting victims was a breakthrough in this difficult situation. Recounting stories of each victim's life, he called on the nation to transcend partisan differences and to recover civility in public discourse. He called on U.S. society to live up to the ideals of the victims of the shootings. The speech has been described as his best since taking office.

A spirit of compromise has also been apparent in policies such as the lowering of corporate tax rates. An extension of tax breaks for the wealthy, accepted by the president at the end of last year, was also a concession to the Republicans. At the same time, the president also showed his toughness in winning approval for a U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament treaty.

The United States is not the only country where political rhetoric has intensified and deteriorated, or where the art of compromise has been lost. Intolerance is a disease common to advanced democracies. It is a self-destructive illness. The United States' struggle over the ideals encapsulated by the motto "E pluribus unum" (out of many, one) is also our own problem.


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