Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Jaw, jaw" better than "war, war"

There are days when I wish everyone would just shut up.

I concede that is too much to hope for, so I might as well add my words to the rhetorical tsunami overtaking our country.  After all, so long as we're still talking and not seeing fisticuffs on the floor of the Senate, I guess there's still some hope that political violence can be avoided.  I know that when I see a foreign governmental body erupt in shoving and hitting I want to laugh--but not for long.  If it can happen in (help me out here--I know I've seen televised footage of such activities, but I can't remember where they occurred)_______, it can happen here.  We are not immune.

Let me state categorically that I do not believe Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or even Sarah Palin is responsible for Rep. Giffords' shooting, so let's take that out of the equation, as Jon Stewart did.  I do, however, hold the Right responsible for the inflammatory speech and abandonment of logic that has us all so stirred up.  Here's what worries me: a growing segment of our population feels betrayed and marginalized--for good reason.  I see too many parallels with post-Weimar Germany, when the German economy failed, and the middle and lower classes rose up to support Hitler.  I'm not saying Glen Beck is Hitler; what I am arguing is that a restive middle class (lower middle class) does not bode well for the future.  Hitler was able to articulate the people's anger, provide an explanation for their situation that absolved them of responsibilty, and reinstate national pride.  Anger, blame, hubris.  How many times have we heard politicians (from both camps) and talking heads say the people are right to be angry?  How many times have we blamed the Chinese or the Europeans or the Mexicans for our problems?  How many times have we heard that America is, and ought to be, the best country in the world and a beacon to the rest of humanity?  Our political discourse has morphed into a moral debate in which the Right demonizes the Left.  OK, so there's Keith Olbermann.  I bet most Tea Partiers don't even know who he is.  But EVERYONE knows Glen and Rush and the divine Ms. P.  Both sides are not equally guilty.

Instead of arguing about whose rhetoric is more inflammatory (I've already given my opinion on that), why can't we debate POLICY?  Let's assume the Right gets what they want: the status quo ante for health care, the expulsion of undocumented immigrants from Latin America, increased Presidential power (provided the President is Republican).  What would be the results?  Insurance companies would make even more money and have even more say in what kind of care people get--what else is all that paperwork for?  Millions would slip between the cracks and live with anxiety and the real prospect of financial ruin.  The low-level jobs that provide a foundation for our standard of living would disappear.  Congress would become increasingly irrelevant, a place where people shout at each other (or the TV camera) while the President assumes more and more control, as we saw with Mr. Bush.

Obama is not trying to accrue more personal power.  More than any President in my long memory he has been conciliatory and open to discussion.  It is the Right that has stone-walled.  He is desperately trying to keep America a civil nation.  It remains to be seen how effective he will be in this endeavor.  What is apparent is the push (from the Right) to adopt more and more laws restricting this or that behavior.  The Right calls for free speech, until one of its own is challenged.  The Right wants a free-for-all of guns in the mistaken idea that regulation is the same thing as strangulation.  The Right demands that everyone abide by their definition of marriage, even if it denies the individual's right to choose his or her own life path.  They say, "Don't mess with ME," then turn around and say, "Here's what YOU have to do."

The danger of violence is real.  Some of us remember the 'sixties, when civility all too often turned into carnage, and there was plenty of blame to go around.  Crosses were burned in the yards of black people, Southern sheriffs brutalized law-abiding citizens, innocent people were killed and injured by Left-wing fanatics, and heiresses were kidnapped.   When words fail, bullets follow.  That is why it is essential that we keep talking, no matter how tiresome it may seem.  We also need a crash course in logic and logical fallacies.  Glen Beck's arguments by analogy are worth no more than the chalk he illustrates them with.  Reasonable limits on gun ownership are not a slippery slope on the way toward emasculation.  Fairness, not religious doctrine, should be our guide.  I, for one, will listen to an argument that is well-reasoned, supported by evidence, and presented in a respectful tone.  When slogans substitute for substance--"Don't retreat, reload!"--I not only stop listening; I get angry too, and I don't like the way that feels.