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(As usual, the agreement with the syndicator means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

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BOB FRANKEN

FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, FEB. 21, 2012

STARK ELECTION CHOICES

BY BOB FRANKEN

Say what you will about the campaign -- and most of us have some pretty ugly things to say about it -- but it's not just ridiculous. All the negative brings with it a big plus: It's been a long time since competing visions of the United States of America have been brought into such sharp focus. More than usual, where different approaches to government had been fuzzied by platitude, this time around the stark differences are plain to see: The voters' options are either/or.

For instance, the Republican candidates are in a fight to be the most “severely conservative,” as Mitt Romney put it. He and the others have sided with the ultrareligious forces who have very firm, some call them harsh, views about how we live our lives, particularly our sex lives. Whether the contenders are sincere or not about their Christian fervor, whoever finally gets the GOP nomination certainly will be beholden to those who, by their own admission, want to turn the clock back to much more restrictive times.


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The latest uproar over health insurance and contraception has revealed the true intentions of certain Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals who will not be satisfied until contraception is illegal. The Supreme Court determined that restriction was unconstitutional in the landmark Griswold decision of 1965, but the hard-liners have never given up their push to overturn the ruling.

Republicans, ever the opportunists, are even urging legislation that would allow employers to refuse to provide health insurance that covers anything that violates his or her “beliefs or moral conviction.” Imagine how the “belief” in more profits would become a “moral conviction.”

As for President Barack Obama, his insistence that Catholic institutional employers to provide insurance that pays for for contraception is portrayed as his “War on Religion.” That's the conservatives' rallying cry.

The president's supporters say that the clerics and their political water carriers really are waging a war against women and for a theocracy in which the favored faiths impose their views on the law, “Christian shariah.” The two sides have diametrically opposite approaches not just to contraception, of course, but to abortion, gay marriage (in fact, gays in general), prayer in schools and even tolerance for those who worship in different ways, specifically Muslims. That's ironic, considering how their views invite comparison with the Taliban. When Rick Santorum accuses Obama of being motivated by “some phony theology -- oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology,” he clearly has decided to run not a campaign for president, but a crusade.

Just as brutal is the fight to the death over how we conduct our business. On the right, we have the high-finance high rollers, represented by the GOP. They dig in their heels resisting at any threat to a system where they are unfettered by regulation of any sort, and fair taxes. Even though it's clear their irresponsibility and greed brought the world to the brink of depression, they insist that accountability would “kill jobs.” Anybody who suggests they had anything to do with massive unemployment is branded a “socialist.”

That's what they call Obama and the Democrats for having the audacity to pursue higher taxes on the wealthy, stronger regulation, health care and any expenditure by government that doesn't feed into their bloat. Compromise is ridiculed as weakness.

For generations, the United States was allowed to gloss over two contradictory definitions of the nation: free market and humane. The entrepreneur could reap lavish rewards while the less fortunate somehow would be protected from deprivation. For centuries it seemed to be more than a fantasy, even when it was financed by debt. Now cold reality is setting in.

The national fabric is unraveling. Unless we come to our senses, we will be forced to choose between two sides of a wall, where the barriers may eventually be too high for us to come together. Common cause eventually will prove to be a mirage. This is shaping up as the election that shatters the illusion.

© 2012 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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