It’s time to take a break from break-neck politics
I recently received a letter from an old friend who doesn’t share my political biases. In what I hope was an unthinking and offhand remark, he wrote: “Liberals, liberals, liberals, just like attorneys, the only good one is a dead one.”At first, I dismissed his comment as nothing more than the price I pay for having friends from a plethora of political positions. But as I mused over his observation, I grew more and more troubled.Did he really desire my death? Was he, either subconsciously or not, wishing that I and those of similar proclivities be dispatched or, as they say in some less than democratic lands, “disappeared?”The thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill certainly crossed my mind, and yet I couldn’t shake the idea that this was a longtime friend, not some anonymous correspondent.One wonders if this is an isolated incident or indicative of the future of political discourse in America. Is it possible we have now reached the dismal point where dialogue is no longer desired, only the destruction of the opposition?
Theo van Gogh was a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered this past Nov. 2 by someone who had decided that dialogue is no longer an option. Van Gogh was controversial, to be sure, but his murder in broad daylight on an Amsterdam street is a horrific reminder of what becomes of civilization when the free exchange of ideas is replaced by monolithic mandates.The new Congress opened session this week, and with its commencement came the expected commentaries from both sides of the aisle.The majority crowed and the minority cowered, as it should be, I suppose. But some of us start getting nervous when folks forget the need for a loyal opposition.There was a time, not so long ago for me, but perhaps forgotten by those much younger, when a sinister slogan made the rounds of politicians, pundits and bumpers. It went: “America: Love it or Leave it!” The implication, of course, was that any criticism of our country’s policies was tantamount to treason.
This dark and antidemocratic line of reasoning seems to be making a comeback in this nation that I love. The tenor of discourse in everything from cable talk shows to letters to the editor seem to have diminished into nothing more than verbal attempts at homicide. Now even correspondence from friends hold such resonance.Lately, I have listened to sincere folks who have described our president as a monster, an idiot, a despot and worse. Like 49 percent of the voting public, I disagree, sometimes vehemently, with Bush’s policies, but I haven’t yet reached the point of seeing him as the personification of all that is evil in the world nor, I believe, have most other dissenters in this democracy of ours. And yet this tendency to demonize does seem to be growing. I suspect I have been guilty of falling into that trap as well.Surely there is some middle ground, some area between black or white where we of differing views can meet to discuss and debate without debasing our opponents, without demanding total acquiescence. My own family history includes the story of my grandfather, a German Lutheran pastor with a thick accent and strong opinions, engaged in a vehement theological debate at a church convention.The arguments became more passionate as the two men sought to convince the other of the rightness of his own position.
Louder and louder grew the voices until everyone in the assembly hall was convinced the debaters were about to come to blows. Suddenly my grandfather strode toward his verbal combatant until they were nose to nose. The entire convention grew silent, fearing the worst. But “Opa” opened his arms and spread out a smile, after a momentary pause, his opponent did the same and off they went to share a glass or two of German beer inviting the others to join them.The debate hadn’t ended, only taken a break for friendships to be renewed.Even as the Congress is just beginning, this might be a good time for all of us to take a break. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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