I remember as a youth being told that there are two subjects to avoid discussing, politics and religion. On some occasions I recall hearing that “religion and politics don’t mix.” I was an atheist and my mother often insisted that it didn’t really matter who one voted for, the fix was in and all politicians are the same anyway. So, neither religion nor politics were high on my radar screen of interests. That began to change in the mid-1970s. I became persuaded that God exists; Christianity is true and was “born again.” Two years later Jimmy Carter was elected the 39th president of the United States. Somewhere near the end of his presidency I began to be interested in political discussion. Over the years since then I have realized why some prefer not to discuss religion or politics. They become very emotional issues which in many cases, for lack of a good argument, are simply reduced to name calling. This seems to me especially pronounced today. I am not sure if it is or if I am just more aware of it. The sides are fairly clearly drawn. One side sees the current administration as evil trying to change the United States into a Socialist state and the other side views their opposition as knuckle dragging, gun toting country cousins that are too in-bred. As Marcia Segelstein points out in her article Republicans are evil, it is rare that liberals know what Conversatives believe or why we beleive it. They would almost never read a conservative column, author or sit down and talk through ideas with a conservative.
A recent L.A. Times “Opinion” article Calls to boycott Obama’s speech to kids offer a disturbing lesson in paranoia by Tim Rutten is a fairly good example of substituting name calling for reasoned debate and principled dissent. As sort of an odd addition to my thoughts, I was listening to David McCullough’s excellent book 1776 on audio. I chuckled to myself as I was listening to King George’s view of the rabble and reading the opening line of Rutten’s article:
Those who are whipping up hysteria over the president’s address are playing a dangerous game with an unhinged segment of public opinion.
Of course, King George regarded the revolutionaries are mentally unhinged ingrates who needed to be silenced. Don’t get me wrong, I am not placing myself in the same category as the signers of the Declaration of Independence and authors of the Constitution. I am not that brave or noble. On the other hand, I have been called a lot of things, some of which are likely true, but unhinged hasn’t been one of them until now. The article ends with the author’s description of those who disagree with the current president:
These are the people who are stockpiling ammunition and keeping their children at home next Tuesday.
Many of Obama’s supporters and advocates are crying fowl and seem to succumb to a convenient lapse of memory that When Bush spoke to students, Democrats investigated, held hearings:
With the Post article in hand, Democrats pounced. “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students,” said Richard Gephardt, then the House Majority Leader. “And the president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action.'”
Tim Rutten claims that the current controversy:
But there is no similar way to rationalize the bizarre controversy now raging over President Obama’s plan to deliver a brief televised address on Tuesday to the nation’s grammar school children.
Why was it somehow rational for the Liberals in 1991 to convene Congressional hearings on George H.W. Bush’s speech but irrational and “bizarre” for conservatives’ reaction to a scheduled speech which included until yesterday, worksheets with challenges such as “How can I better serve my President?” Would Obama’s speech have been fairly innocuous before the uproar? Probably. Were the concerns of the parents unfounded? That depends. Obama was clear during the campaign that he wanted a civil military force as well funded and trained as the U.S. military force which fights overseas. The question arises, “Why?” Does he plan to use this well funded military force against the citizens of this nation? That begins sounding like a governmental force in pre-Second World War Germany. That leader also recruited students into his youth organization and had them study was they could serve him better. Is this Obama’s plan? I don’t know but name calling will probably not move us any closer to understanding his purposes either. Some conservatives obviously believe that this is the case and resort to a bit of name calling about Obama supporters in a youtube titled Obama of Borg
The nervousness increased as it became public knowledge some of Obama’s “Czars” or advisors are avowed Marxists. Green jobs Czar, Van Jones for example is a self professed Marxist as well as one who signed on with a group claiming that President George W. Bush was part of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, that white people intentionally pollute Black communities and George W. Bush smokes crack. (See Glenn Beck’s Episode 31 – Czar Power)
Van Jones evidence and reason for his assertions? None. Name calling? Definitely. Were liberals incensed at his name calling and character assasination? Not a one. Does it bring us any closer to rational debate and informed dissent? No. And these events (Obama’s speech and the resignation of Van Jones) have only served to widen the divide between Liberals and Conservatives. Noel Sheppard in his piece Glenn Beck KOs Van Jones: The Future of Media and Politics? reveals the current trend of digging for dirt against other media types in order to discredit their findings and this is done to protect their preferred politician from scrutiny.
This is not limited to politics but also occurs often in the area of religious discussion. Nearly daily I receive emails, letters of phone calls denouncing me as evil and pronouncing God’s judgment on me for what we have said or written about their group, leader and teaching. The difference is we focus on what is being taught not on character assassination. I suppose I write this week in order to caution and challenge. First, challenging the views and positions of others can be nasty business because we are all very invested in our worldviews. Second, since that is the case, focus on the content of the issue, not the individual who holds certain views. Third, develop thick skin. Often times the attacks are not against you but against what you represent. Where possible ask questions. “Do you think it is appropriate to have an avowed Marxist advising the President?” “Why do you suppose the White House put on this individual without the proper vetting process?” Questions are less threatening than accusations. Try to not make accusations about motive or intent. We cannot know those with any certainty so it is better to stick with the facts and evidence. Try to no take personal attacks too seriously.
Oh, I have to run. I have a load of ammunition being delivered today.(grin)