What the hell is the matter with us? When did we lose sight of who we are and what this country is about? When did being a Republican or a Democrat or a conservative or a liberal become more important than being an American? What do we have to do to stop the madness?
I was reading an article today on CNN about the threats that some of our elected leaders are receiving as a result of the recent health care vote. Bricks through windows. A gas line cut after someone PUBLISHED the address of the brother of a member of Congress. And when told that the member of Congress no longer lives there the response of the person who published the address, apparently, was, “Oh well, collateral damage.” Um, what?
Not, it was a mistake to publish that address. Not, thank God no one was hurt and the act didn’t put someone at risk of injury or death. “Oh, well, collateral damage.”
On that same article, there is a comments section. One of the comments read, “But it is well documented that we are far better armed and trained in weapons usage . Your people will be massacred at a rate greater than the first civil war. Im prepared , are you ?”
Have we really come to this? Is this where we are now? Are we really at the point where we believe a civil war is the only way to fix our problems? Really? Because if that’s the case, I’m not sure this is the country that I thought it was.
I know that I got involved in a discussion on Twitter with a person whose firm belief is that liberals/Democrats should leave the country and take our officials with us when we go. This is a variation on the thread I heard when we were preparing to go to war with Iraq: if you don’t agree with this action, then you should leave. You’re a traitor. You’re unAmerican if you question the president. You can’t disagree, openly, with the president because it weakens the office and makes us look weak in the face of terrorists.
I didn’t agree then, and I don’t agree now that we shouldn’t question our elected officials and that we shouldn’t disagree. That’s what makes this the United States of America. We have the right and even an obligation to speak up, to question, to argue. Heck, make fun of the president if you want. I know I made it through eight years of Bush by thinking of him as Shrub.
However, we do not have the right to threaten people who don’t agree with us. We should not be resorting to intimidation tactics or outright violence because we think it’s okay for us because we’re mad and we’re not going to take it anymore. What’s scaring me is that the radical element that has thought it was okay to bomb abortion clinics or to murder abortion doctors is part of the base of the group that is doing these things. So is it a stretch to believe that they could do the same things to elected officials or to people they find threatening in some way? I don’t think it is at all.
I know there are a lot of people unhappy about the new health care law, but I think a lot of those people haven’t actually read the law and don’t realize that it has its roots, in large part, in ideas that Republicans laid out back in the 90s as a counter-point to Hillary Clinton’s attempt to create national health care. Would that change opinions about it? I don’t think so. This country is so divided, so broken, that I don’t know if that would help things at all.
In his first inaugural address Thomas Jefferson said: “Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” –Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. The point here is not, as some might take it, that Obama is a tyrant or a despot. The point is that if we allow intolerance of other political views to seep into our culture (the way that we have) we are in no better place than our founders were when they were trying to break away from religious persecution.
When I first started teaching twenty years ago, I used to assign students to research the positions of candidates for office. It’s an assignment I could NEVER use now. The first time I did it the candidates were Clinton, Perot, and Bush (the elder). I insisted that the research a candidate they didn’t think they would vote for and made this discuss each of the candidate’s policies in neutral language. It was a tough assignment then, but I think, given how rhetorically hot this country is now, it would be utterly impossible. I did this because I believed then, as I believe now, that the point of elections is to elect the most qualified people, the people whose beliefs and platforms most closely resemble what you hope for in the country.
I was shocked when I lived in Alabama to see two things at the top of the ballot: one said Republican; the other, Democrat. If you ticked one of those boxes, you could elect all Republican candidates on the ballot or, conversely, all Democratic candidates. It’s that kind of thinking that Jefferson spoke against. “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” –Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789.
Wise words that we should perhaps consider before we rip this country apart.