Friday, May 4, 2012

The politics of division

This happened approximately one month back.

I posted a New York Times article to my Facebook wall.  The article was about education spending and carried a slant that Republican political leaders have historically not seen the issue as worthy of funding as others.  A friend of mine, one I shall term friend "A" to be as ambiguous as I can be, posted a note in defense of conservative tenets.  Friend A is a Tea Party member for reasons that pass understanding.  A bit of a brouhaha ensued, not between myself and friend A but between A and several of my other friends.

Friend "B" then contacted me.  B asked, "Who is the douche bag commenting on that post?"  I answered that while A and I may disagree on issues, A is an intelligent and kind individual and that I would personally vouch for A's character any day of the week.  To be absolutely clear, B is likewise a kind and intelligent individual and were A and B to ever meet, I'm certain they would get along.

But that's just it.  The story I just related is a mere symptom of a far more pervasive cancer.  Political discourse in this nation has long since degenerated.  The parties are this close to becoming opposing street gangs.  Anyone in the middle will be bullied by either side, each side demanding an answer to "what side you on?" or "who you with?"  To see this, one need only to realize that both sides have taken to the most elementary school-styled tactics: making fun of someone's name.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, many conservatives latched on to the fact that President Obama's middle name is "Hussein."  Case in point, Ann Coulter's nigh constant referencing of the man as "B. Hussein Obama," attempting to tie him to Iraq's former dictator or at the very least to paint him as a Muslim (and big deal if he were, I'd say.)  The left was infuriated by this.

So what are liberals doing now?  They've picked up on how Governor Mitt Romney's actual first name is "Willard," attempting to paint him as the subject of an old horror film wherein a creepy kid with the same name leads an army of rats.  Additionally, those opposed to Rick Santorum have managed to use his name to stand for a fairly crude sexual act.  One need only Google the name to find out the "new meaning."

And this advances us how??? 

Both sides seem gleeful in awaiting their opponent's policies to fail.  Remember when Rush Limbaugh said he wanted President Obama to fail?  Just who gets damaged by such an occurrence?  That would be us.  The people.  Both sides appear willing to sacrifice a great deal simply to gain a higher political advantage.

Another weapon oft deployed in these skirmishes is so-called patriotism.  After the invasion of Iraq, conservatives stickered up their SUVs and Hummers, plastering them with American flag decals and yellow magnetic ribbons stating "Support Our Troops."  The implied clause before that phrase being, "You had better."  What did liberals do?  Got stickered up, too.  They covered the rusty bumpers of their old Hondas with phrases such as "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."  The implication being, "Ha!  You think I'm a traitor but I'm actually more patriotic than you!  There!  Treated!" 

Personally, I distrust any form of nationalism.  Regardless of the nation of origin.  You want to be proud of your heritage?  Fine.  Patriotism, however, just seems like an artificial star to hitch one's wagon to, a means of siphoning pride for yourself from actions you had no involvement in.  It can be dangerous, too.  As Shakespeare said, patriotism "stirs the blood and narrows the mind."  Hermann Goering said, "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."  He oughtta know.
So patriotism becomes a genuine issue.  For example, the furor in Massachusetts over a town board member who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance.  Meanwhile, millions remain out of work and the environment continues to decay.

Who or what is to blame for this extreme division, for this gulf that appears to get ever wider?  Well, I'll nominate myself as a start.  I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else I've mentioned.  The pejorative word "teabagger" has entered my lexicon and I say it quite frequently.  This doesn't help.  Therefore, I hereby pledge to remove best I can...from my vocabulary.  What else will serve as the fulcrum to tip the balance?  We need to listen to each other for starters.  If the best means we have of disagreeing with someone's views is to say, "you're a stupid teabagger who can only wave the flag and thump the Bible" or "you're a stupid liberal who doesn't know how to think and so uses emotion instead," we will get nowhere.  Those comments are not only insulting, they do nothing to address the issue.  They are known as ad hominem, indicating that you are incapable of debating the message so you must instead attack the messenger.

One way or another, we're going to have to work together.  But with both sides so entrenched in their fevered dogma, I don't know how that is going to happen.

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