"So why did you even bother wasting your time?"
That was the War Department a few years ago when I related how I'd made a call to a local radio show on the topic of gun control. I'd informed the host I was all for having a discussion on the merits of it, that with the killings in places like Columbine I felt it was necessary.
I still feel that way. Talking about the merits of something doesn't necessarily imply the automatic implementation of it. A discussion can be just an exploration into the desirability of a given course of action. You weigh your options and pick the best one.
Anyway, the talk show host tried to nail me down with questions such as, "So you would have us abdicate our Constitutionally guaranteed rights"?
I wouldn't play that game, told him since neither one of us were lawyers trained in interpreting the Constitution it was misleading to speak in those terms. I reiterated my feelings that a national discussion on the merits of gun control was overdue. He finally hung up on me after a few gratuitously insulting remarks I wasn't given time to reply to. It was exactly what I expected and received.
So back to the WD's question, why did I even bother?
Because I was tired of hearing topics discussed where it's presented that there are only two possible positions and they're both polar opposites. I wanted a more centrist opinion (mine) voiced. If nothing else it lets whoever else might share my views know they're not alone. By daring to speak up when I knew I'd get demeaned and insulted I let whoever might truly listen know that my beliefs were strong enough to put me in the line of ridicule and abuse. That might indicate those beliefs were deserving of serious consideration.
More and more of that "anything goes, take no prisoners mentality" is entering the political arena. I don't know when it all started, maybe back in the late 60's at the Democratic convention in Chicago. Seems thats when polite disagreement started taking a back seat to the acrimonious attacks that substitute for debate these days. Maybe it was even earlier. I know that to some degree ad hominem attacks have always been a part of politics, it just seems to have spread unchecked like wildfire across the political landscape over the past few decades.
It's like corruption, incompetence or inefficency. We'll always have those problems because they're a part of our human makeup. Likewise there will always be a tendency to go for the throat in any political debate. It's by restraining ourselves that we actually accomplish something meaningful. That restraint has to be exercised by both sides, these days it seems its very seldom even one side will make any attempt at that.
And with the all-or-nothing mentality goes the tendency to demonize the opposing side. The justification to use whatever comes to mind in the way of insult, slander, mudslinging, etc. It's all grist for the mill of a given position. Both sides of the political spectrum do it, for every Rosie O'Donnell there's an Ann Coulter. For every Al Franken there's a Michael Savage.
Our nation suffers from it. Because as moderate voices are silenced for fear of being gratuitously demonized and castigated the only voices left to hear are the extremists. As time goes on the only positions left to choose from are the extreme ones. So any choice made by the public will be one brought to power by whoever has the loudest voice and deepest pockets. We become more like a bannana republic than the Republic envisioned by the Founding Fathers. It becomes a case of whoever has the most toys wins.
One side will take their displeasure with the President as far as possible, even to impeachment. That tactic is reciprocated in kind by their opponents at the first opportunity (the main reason I was always doubtful about impeaching Clinton). The accusations of "treason", "racism", "corruption", etc. get thrown back and forth so often that the words start to lose any real meaning. They become gratuitous insults thrown because they can be. Welcome to WWF style political debate.
Speaking of the Founding Fathers, there was a group that couldn't get anything done at first. They didn't trust one another, AT ALL!!! It was only with the realization that true progress required true compromise and a willingness to allow an opposing view a place at the Republic's table that anything began to get done. An attempt at civility and giving the other side a benefit of the doubt regarding their true intentions for our country. We've forgotten that lesson. All of us.
IMHO we should begin actually listening to one another. When the opposing side descends into an ad hominem attack they should be brought up short on it. Civility should become a standard to adhere to in public debate at all levels, even down to a kitchen table discussion on Saturday afternoons. The political equivalent of WWF style debate should be left at the door, only those behaving like ladies and gentlemen allowed in. I know it sounds quaint, ludicrous, naive, whatever. It's also what is needed.
I recall the Presidential debates of the mid 60's. They seemed more "gentlemanly" and civilized. At one point Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey crossed paths at an airport between connecting flights. They shook hands, joked good-naturedly with one another and went on their way. There couldn't have been two more opposite points of political view than the ones embodied in those two men. Yet they could still treat each other as decent human beings. They could at least act like they believed the other guy might be misguided yet still have the nation's best interests at heart.
That's one of the things I've admired about the current President. In some ways he's been a complete failure. Yet he'll almost always refrain from the ad hominem, personal attacks against his critics. Not always, but almost always. It's something you didn't see in his immediate predecessor, I hope we see it in his successor.
Civility in disagreement. Leave the tactical nukes at home, fight like men and no cheap shots or hitting below the belt.
What a concept.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
"So why did you even bother wasting your time?"