It's funny that one of the major complaints about our two-party system of government is that there's not enough difference between Republicans and Democrats to offer much of a choice, and therefore accomplish any major changes.
You've heard of Tweedle-dee vs. Tweedle-dum in the 2000 election, won through a technicality by George W. Bush over Al Gore. In 2004, the distinctions between Bush and John Kerry were visible but not sharp, and voters were not ready to jump ship in the middle of a war.
Even in 2008, the biggest gulf between Barack Obama and John McCain was their proposals for health care reform. Other than that, it was clear we were not about to see significant changes with a Democratic president.
What Obama offered, and a majority of voters seized on, was his rhetoric of change that was not necessarily backed up by his agenda, aside from the watered-down health care reform recently signed into law.
We are still in Iraq and violence there continues to erupt. We have expanded the Afghanistan war, and military and civilian deaths are mounting. But during the election campaign, Obama never said he would do something other than what he is doing, which is not much different than what McCain would be doing.
Sometimes, however, a turn of events shows that voters can make calculated mistakes. It turned out that Gore likely would not have been a flip side of the ``tweedle'' the Bush presidency became. Our response to 9/11, our invasion of Iraq, our dealings with energy, health care and the environment all would have been different under Gore.
While Bush united the country after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and initially with the Iraq war, by his second term the nation was divided and politics was partisan. Bush's approval ratings plummeted because of the lingering war and a lack of leadership on domestic issues.
However, the divisions and partisan politics never descended to the level of misinformation and nastiness that Obama is facing little more than a year into his presidency. Why this is occurring is baffling, and appears to be rooted more in labels and stereotyping than in Obama's agenda or performance.
A book published a few months back, ``Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America'' by John Avlon, details the large numbers of people who describe the president in extremist terms. The trouble with the book title is that the so-called ``lunatic fringe'' is not really fringy at all because its views are apparently shared by far too many.
Last month, a Harris Poll set out to grasp just how widespread the views of this fringe had become. It surveyed 2,320 adults online between March 1 and 8, and the results were indeed shocking.
It found 40 percent of adults believe Obama is a socialist, ``more than 30 percent think he wants to take away Americans' right to own guns and that he is a Muslim. More than 25 percent believe he wants to turn over the sovereignty of the U.S. to a world government.'' There's more. About 20 percent think he "wants to use an economic collapse or terrorist attack as an excuse to take dictatorial powers,'' and that he is "doing many of the things that Hitler did." As troubling as those results are, the percentages probably would have been higher if the questions were asked a few years back about Bush.
In the poll, 14 percent of respondents said they believe the president ``may be the anti-Christ" and 13 percent think "he wants the terrorists to win."
When the results were broken down by party affiliation, the numbers for Republicans were much higher than for the general sample, and they leave one wondering how so many people could reach such conclusions. The evidence is not there, so where are they getting their alleged ``information?''
Perhaps that's where the ``lunatic fringe'' enters the picture. The Rush Limbaughs, Fox News and Glenn Becks not only have their listeners, but also believers. They are the same people who were convinced that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and thus deserving of invasion and destruction.
And now their tactics are threats against congressmen who favored health-care reform, the formation of an increasing number of militia groups stockpiling arsenals and a deepening alienation from the facts surrounding the Obama presidency.
Obama is not socialist just because he continued Bush's corporate bailout as a anti-depression strategy and pushed for a humane health care system. He has never said he wants to take away Second Amendment rights. He certainly is not a Muslim. World government? Maybe a millennium from now, if we survive that long.
It is unfortunate that such a groundless picture has been painted of the president. We must hope that the growth of this extreme ``fringe'' does not lead some adherents to acts that could cause irreparable harm to the nation.
Cary Brunswick of Oneonta is a freelance writer and editor of oneontatoday.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.