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Conservatives, liberals — po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe

President George W. Bush’s “you’re either with us, or against us” approach to combating global terrorism has apparently taken a firm root in American domestic politics. American voters are increasingly being forced to choose between two ever-growing camps seeking to be as ideologically different from the other as possible. I’m not even speaking of Democrats and Republicans anymore. I’m speaking of the more activist camps of liberals and conservatives, two buzzwords evoking feelings of brotherly comradeship or raw vehemence — depending which side you’re on. Each side is vying for your vote and desperately, desperately wants to convince you they truly represent “mainstream” America. The only trouble is as each side becomes more and more adamant in their views, they begin existing solely to discredit the other side and end up acting like idiots.

Liberals are pro-choice but against the death penalty. Conservatives are pro-life but for the death penalty. Liberals read Al Franken and watch Michael Moore movies to learn about “liars” and “imperialists.” Conservatives read Ann Coulter and listen to Rush Limbaugh to learn about “traitors” and “femi-Nazis.” More generally, conservatives control the radio waves while liberals own the Internet. Liberals idolize Bill Clinton and demonize Ronald Reagan. Conservatives venerate Reagan and tried to impeach Clinton. Conservatives want a missile shield in Washington, D.C. Liberals sent “human shields” to Baghdad. Conservatives say the war in Iraq was justified because we removed a modern-day Adolf Hitler and brought freedom and justice to an entire nation. Liberals say this alienated us from nearly all of Western civilization. Liberals will say Bush acted “unilaterally.” Conservatives say Bush acted without the French.

Liberals will vote for a “veteran” in 2004 but supported a “draft-dodger” in 1992 and 1996. Conservatives want to halt the rise in fundamentalism around the world but support prayer in American schools. Liberals want to kill Big Tobacco but legalize marijuana. Conservatives say “Buy American!” but send jobs overseas. Both sides agree the media is too biased, but while liberals point the finger at Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and pretty much all of Fox News, conservatives blame Oprah Winfrey, Dan Rather, Diane Sawyer and all of CNN.

Amid all of this, the remaining members of the freethinking American community are apparently taking refuge in their partisan-free fallout shelters and sitting dumbfounded at just how black and white the socio-political spectrum has gotten over the last 10 years. The sad news is it’s not going to get better anytime soon. This presidential election is shaping up to be nasty, brutish and long, as the quest to “save America” is pursued by both sides with blind adrenaline. Be prepared to be bombarded with television ads and radio broadcasts extolling the virtues or the crimes of the Bush administration and whether the Democrats will take back America or hijack it.

This attempt to polarize the American voting public should serve as a wake-up call to the silent majority of centrists and moderates out there who simply want to keep our country safe from terrorists, have affordable health care, have a decent-paying job that’s not in danger of being moved to Asia or Mexico and not be taxed into poverty because the government can’t handle its money. These should be the focal points — not byproducts next to wedge-issues such as gay marriages, Iraq or what the presidential candidates did 30 years ago.

To the conservatives: We don’t need a constitutional amendment prohibiting an apparent civil liberty. Jack marrying Jim is not going to affect my love life.

To the liberals: The war in Iraq is over. Weapons of mass destruction or not, the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam’s reign of terror. Get over it.

And to both sides: I could care less what my candidate did 30 years ago during the Vietnam War. I care what they will do in the present and where they hope to lead this country for the next 30 years. If this is an election seeking to “take back America,” I, as a centrist, seek to take back America from the activists, pundits, extremists and spin-doctors who have turned intelligent political debate into immature turf-battles and one-sided sound bytes that are repeated ad nauseum.

Michael Rossi, Daily Targum, Rutgers University.