Friday, May 25, 2007

The End Of Civility?

It began with the first George Bush (Willie Horton) and has continued to this day. Each and every year it keeps getting ratcheted up higher and higher. The American public is being bombarded by it on a nightly basis through the 24 hour news cycle. What is it you ask?

It is the loss of civility in our political discourse. There was a time when we could disagree with someone’s ideas and not be disagreeable. We could debate the merits of ideas without debating the patriotism or the character of the person behind the idea. Why is there so much rancor and demagoguery in our governance? When did it become fashionable to discount ideas not based on their value, but based on what side of the political spectrum they came from? Our political dialog has been in a slow and steady decline for a number of years and no one but those who would seek to divide us gains from it. I wish I could say that it was just one side or the other, but that is not true. We can debate from now ‘til doomsday about who started it, but the fact remains we all are doing it. From the extremes of discussing the sexuality of a candidate to the President being the anti-Christ, it is all demagoguery. Do we have to demonize each other to prove who is right and who is wrong? Is it possible that because someone disagrees with my assessment of the situation it doesn’t mean that they are inherently evil and the devil’s spawn?

I read an editorial that said that we as a nation have become so competitive that this new political reality is merely the out-growth of that. It stated that we generally are as a nation fractured and splintered right down the middle and the red/blue state debates are fueling this animosity. That we are so divided on certain issues that any settlement is next to impossible. These issues are so personal and so basic that there can be no compromise. You are either with us and right or with them and wrong and going to hell! Is this really how the majority of Americans feel? There is also a book that argues this same point, “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America” by James Davison Hunter. He argued that on an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues—abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, homosexuality, censorship issues— there had come to be two definable polarities. Furthermore, it was not just that there were a number of divisive issues, but that society had divided along essentially the same lines on each of these issues, so as to constitute two warring groups, defined primarily not by nominal religion, ethnicity, social class, or even political affiliation, but rather by ideological world views.

I for one disagree with this analysis. The problem as I see it is that we have become a society that feeds on entertainment and conflict. We want to be entertained and see a good fight; hence the obsession with reality shows. There is a time and place for that type of entertainment, but our political arena is not it. The issues we face as a nation are too important to settle with name calling and personal attacks. In order for us to overcome these obstacles we will need the cooperation of all Americans. There are extreme groups on both sides of these issues that would have us believe that the lines are drawn so sharply and run so deep that there is no room for compromise, but they are not right. They said the same thing about slavery, integration of our schools, and women voting. It is just that the extremist are always the loudest and the moderates are becoming complacent. We don’t have to completely agree with each other on everything, but we must respect one another in the process of discussion. We will never get anywhere with the politics of demonizing our opponents. Think about it, what can you say after you have identified your opponent as the anti-Christ? Any meaningful discussions are really limited at that point. It is time to end the politics of division and hate. It is time to stop this viscous cycle before it destroys any chance we have to heal this nation. Do I disagree with this administration? You bet I do, but there are some decent and honorable people in this administration and on the other side of the aisle that deserve my respect. Not because they are right and I agree with them but because they are Americans and have the same right of free speech that I do. The American people deserve better than what the political landscape is now providing. There are many able and qualified people who will not enter into the public arena because of this environment. When that happens we all lose.

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