Friday, February 10, 2006

From Bad to Worse?
I've believed for awhile that though things are rough enough right now in terms of political bitterness in America, we will really see a crackup if/when Democrats retake power, particularly if a perceived liberal with a polarizing personality wins the presidency. The rage on the right now lacks a focus and just manifests as general loathing for an internal enemy that's contained, though not yet destroyed. (If only we had the power in the press and other areas they constantly ascribe to us.) But even two years ago, in the Swift Boating of a relatively inoffensive Democrat like John Kerry, we saw the depths of right-wing fury. If he'd won, it would have been much worse; if a certain former First Lady runs (as this piece seems to suggest she will)--and, for many reasons including this one, I pray she does not--and wins, it's hard to imagine how bad it will get.

Maybe I'm wrong about this; I hope so. One could argue (and many do) that today's liberals are as or more het up about Bush, as irrationally loathing of him, as right-wingers were toward Bill Clinton. The differences as I see it are twofold: one, Republicans controlled Congress, so Clinton's power to force us all into gay marriage and compel pregnancies just so we could abort them was presumably limited, and two, public opinion polling consistently found him with majority approval. Most people thought the guy was doing a pretty decent job. By contrast, Democrats are totally shut out of power at the national level and thus can't check presidential excesses, and something like 60 percent of the public--including, presumably, a lot of people who voted for him last time--thinks Bush is doing a lousy job. In that respect, you could argue that liberals have more to be upset about, and that doesn't even get into the substantive differences between extramarital shenanigans and the policy failures and falsehoods around Iraq, New Orleans, claiming of virtually unlimited executive powers, the politically motivated outing of intelligence agents, government-approved torture, and the rest of it. Did the hardcore people on the right really take that much issue with Clinton's official activities? I don't think so.

Either way, though, the great divide is getting wider and wider. Last night I read this upsetting item on DailyKos; worse were the dozens of comment responses telling similar stories. There are few places where one can even engage someone on "the other side" in a conversation about public affairs, and many fewer where that conversation doesn't devolve into heated insults and rhetorical excess. I've thought of it for a couple years now as a "cold civil war" (though a Google search I did earlier tonight showed that I'm far from the only one who's come up with that term), in that politics are dividing families and sundering friendships. Happily, we haven't started shooting yet, though in my more pessimistic moments I wonder if that's just a matter of time.

As this blog often shows, I'm certainly prone to the overheated phrase and gratuitous political insult too. It's an outgrowth of frustration and deep sadness at what I think is happening in our country, but that doesn't justify it--particularly as I believe neither in the infallability, in any sense, of the Democrats nor in the thoroughgoing evil of the Republicans. No faction has a monopoly on either good ideas or ethical virtue.

What I think I'm finding, though, is a difference in my own approach between those who are willing to engage on the level of ideas, and those who seem to view public life as nothing more than a zero-sum contest of political factions, with "our side" and "their side." The first bunch have my respect and appreciation as Americans who simply see things differently than I do. Once in a while, they might convince me of something, or I them; even when that doesn't happen, I try to see value in the exchange itself. The country is a community and we need to try and share it; when we stop communicating with those of other viewpoints, we start dehumanizing them, and that opens the door to dark things.

The second group, though, seems to want to tear that door off its hinges. I wonder how many of them are even able to articulate a belief system when it comes to government and community; all they seem to know is hating liberals, with no critical thinking capacity, no desire or ability to look at things as they are rather than as they want them to be.

(As the above-noted Daily Kos--though not that particular link, for the most part--and so many other websites show, there is a corresponding group on the left that starts from the premise "Republicans are wrong and evil," and pretty much stops there too. I won't call them liberals, as I don't think they're deserving of the name. Since they're marginalized, they don't yet scare me, but they're obviously symptomatic of the larger problem I'm talking about here.)

I don't know what it will take to heal the deep rift in our society. But removing those in power who gain by it strikes me as a good place to start.

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