I have been rigid in my opinions for as long as I can remember. I can still recall my father's stern admonition that other people were not necessarily stupid, just because they had a different point of view than my own. He must be spinning in his grave now, given the current state of discourse in the land.
It's been eight years since Jon Stewart famously caused Crossfire to disappear from the airwaves. If you have forgotten that incident, he accused this standard of political debate of failing their opportunity to elevate the discourse. Within weeks, the show was gone. I purposely ignored that show, as I did not observe any debate on issues; instead, the people representing the different sides mostly tried to speak louder than the other one.
Since that time, the conversation has become much less civil and, if possible, more polarized. Issues have become so charged that it is no longer acceptable to disagree. Some examples:
- The most-watched evening political tv show host tarred a physician in Kansas with the epithet "Tiller the Killer". After the man was gunned down, this host denied any responsibility for the act, while inferring that it was a good deed.
- During a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress, a representative from South Carolina loudly yelled "you lie" during part of the speech. This rude character saw a large spike in his fundraising.
- It may have been in the same address, when the President stated that a recent Supreme Court decision would have severe consequences, leading to more involvement of money in politics, one of the Associate Justices mouthed the words "that's not true". Actually, it has proven to be so.
- The leading Republican Presidential contender has spent more money on negative television ads than all his competitors have spent on all media ad buys. While "going negative" is believed to be a winning formula, the end result is that fewer eligible voters participate in each successive election cycle, as they have become so disenchanted with the process. I think the fairy tale about the golden goose is applicable here.
- The most popular host on talk radio recently spent the better part of three days accusing a young woman of having negotiable virtue. His apology, issued only after the bulk of his advertisers ducked for cover, was, at best, half-hearted.
- Regarding that episode, the host's minions immediately responded with the argument that folks on the other side have done the same thing, which, apparently, makes it acceptable.
Good grief. In all my years, I have found that most everyone had a mother who instilled the same basic tenets of good manners in their children. Such aphorisms as:
- If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
- It's rude to interrupt another person while speaking; allow them to finish before you speak.
- Don't call people names. While sticks and stones may hurt more, words can still harm.
- Everybody's different.
Finally, about that whole notion of equivalency, that many have used to rationalize that radio host's uncivil harangue: The fastest and easiest way to lose an argument with my mother was to justify my behavior by stating that someone else did it or said it. If it was something verbal, I would get the threat to wash my mouth out with soap. As I truly believed she would do this to me, I would not repeat the offense.
Disagreeing with another is a hallmark of a free society. I can have a differing point of view than someone else (which I do, with many), but I do not hold up a sign of them with a Hitler moustache. I do not shout them down. I do not accuse them of being a socialist, fascist, wingnut, parlor pink or idiot.
While I wish I could state this as eloquently as Will Rogers, I'll merely wonder why so many people who are in politics or television seemingly neglect everything their mothers taught them. It's nothing a time out or a good bar of soap couldn't cure. In the meantime, I would prefer to hang out at the final bastions of courtesy remaining on the planet: a golf course or a Chick-Fil-A.