In a church I used to attend there was a gentleman, already gone on to glory by the time I arrived, but whose presence still lingered. Whenever there was an argument in the church council about how to proceed, it was certain that his memory would be invoked at some point. There were two reasons he stood out so in church debates. First, he fought for his point of view fiercely until the decision was made. Second, once the council vote was over, even if he lost, he was part of the team.
In one remember instance he had strongly opposed an extension of the church’s facility. He thought it was a bad use of money. He disapproved of the timing. He believed that the church could not afford it at the time. The vote went against him. What next? He was the biggest fundraiser for the new project. He was a team player.
One of the problems I see in this country now is that elections have become a 24/7/365/100 (as in 100 years) project. We never quit campaigning. We never quit debating the candidates. We are constantly in a state of political conflict, not just in Washington, but throughout the country. This can be good and bad. It can involve all the people in constantly making, and reviewing decisions. But it can also make it hard for us to come together, behave like a team, and carry out those policies on which we do agree.
I’m guessing that Republicans reading this will immediately apply it to some of the intense attacks on President Bush, who has been called a liar and a murderer. But before you apply it that way, you should remember some of the Republican attacks on President Clinton. I have to confess I don’t like Clinton that much myself, as a person, but I tended to agree a good deal with his policies. I actually like his wife better–I think she’s smarter and more stable. I’m moralistic enough to have a problem with the reliability of someone who can’t be trusted to keep his marriage vows. During his presidency, however, I regularly heard attacks on him that were easily as nasty as the current attacks on Bush. “Draft-doger-in-chief” was pretty common, and of course Bush’s military record has come under similar attacks. The nastiness doesn’t come from only one side by any means.
I vigorously oppose the war in Iraq. I believe Bush and his team made a gross strategic error in going into Iraq. I believe Congress made an error in authorizing the war. But I do not believe that the president or those in congress are lacking in patriotism, or intending to destroy the country. In my view, the war was an error in judgment, and leaders should pay for that. It’s sufficient reason for me to vote for someone else in the next election. I don’t have to make them out to be monsters as well.
We can’t do what the gentleman I mentioned did in church, simply because the debate is now going on all the time. We have additional decisions to make, such as how we continue to use force. But the vilifying of our opponents in all of this is not going to help us carry on as a country. There’s a certain level of teamwork that’s going to be required in that.
My wife and I put this into practice. Now bear with me–I know the country is not like a marriage. She and I disagree on a number of political issues. But we don’t just agree to go our own way on everything. Prior to each election we sit down with a sample ballot and we discuss each issue and each race. Sometimes our vote will be different. Sometimes one of us brings a point to the discussion that changes the other’s mind. We don’t pretend to agree, and we don’t avoid discussing the issues. I believe that discussion improves the quality of both of our votes.
I read more pro-war blogs and stories than anti-war. Why? I’m already against this war. To clarify, strengthen, test, and even adjust my viewpoint, I need to hear from the other side. I’ve met some opponents that I think are foolish, some that I think ignore the big picture involved in the middle east, such as some who think we need to just go in and clean the whole place up (with what level of force, and whence will it come?). Some seem to me to think that force is the one and only solution to everything. But I have yet to meet one person who doesn’t truly love this country and doesn’t act because he or she believes it’s the right thing.
Now the politicians spin and lie to the public, because they’re politicians, and because we listen. We don’t want to hear our congressman say, “I voted for this bill because it was the best I could get, and it was better than the alternatives.” We want to hear, “This is a great day for America! This bill is wonderful!” If we’d be realistic, we could, as voters, change the tone of politics. I oppose President Bush and many current Republicans, not because I think they’re monsters, but because I disagree, on balance, with the policies they advocate. That’s all I need to decide my vote. Angry attacks characterizing those same people as liars (above other politicians), murderers, or thieves only makes me want to vote “none of the above.” Oh, I’ll choose somebody in the end, but the vilification does no good to the vilifier when I make my choice to vote.
I hope and pray that we will learn to fight hard and play nice. That’s the way to run a republic.