Citizen Wausau

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Early Casualty of the Election

by on September 16th, 2008

Well, the heat is really turning up in the Presidential election. Intense debates, emotions running high, personal attacks, accusations, spurious claims, twisted facts, falsehoods — and all that is just between regular citizens on different sides of the fence!

I had a pretty involved debate recently with a friend who’s way at the other end of the political spectrum from me. In typical fashion, I was loud and overbearing, and I wagged my index finger often to make “points.”  This is the sort of thing I’ve seen or been part of lots of times in my life, like a heated encounter you might see at a coffee house in Bulgaria or something. (Is there still a Bulgaria?)

My friend became frustrated by my demeanor and several interruptions. Rightfully so. I got overly excited about what I viewed as partisan statements that were baseless or just plain wrong. I’m thinking, after all, if you’re going to disagree, then it should be about real things, not falsehoods, eh? Let’s stick to the facts and all that.

At the end of it all, several points that we both made were left unsupported factually. I offered to follow up next day with e-mailed background facts. When I e-mailed the added info and a healthy portion of my pointed opinions, I received a pretty strong rebuke — a virtual cease-and-desist order. In retrospect, I know I was being very preachy. And now: a friendship is somewhat bruised, hopefully not fractured. We’ll see.

This leads me to the thing I’m wondering about. Civil discourse. Political discourse. Discussing the issues during a major national election. Certainly, nobody should ambush anybody on the street corner or in the grocery store and just start yelling partisan positions at them (maybe because the target is wearing a political button or t-shirt). But, when there is a comment made from one side and a response from the other side, and then opposing viewpoints start flying, is that a bad thing? Should we shy away from such things? Even the TV commentators get in each other’s faces pretty good. Should we just let our vote do our talking? Lately, I’ve heard the following statement several times: “The most patriotic thing you can do is vote on election day.” Nice sentiment, but is that where it begins and ends? The booth?

I grew up in an incendiary time of conflict, open dissent, protest, confrontation, politics that certainly affected friendships. People yelled, argued, sang, marched, published, paraded, and even got beaten up and shot. In the end, much of it was witnessed by the public at large. People saw both sides in stark contrast and made their own judgments and decisions accordingly.

Today, is it different? Do we sit and let the “leaders” do the talking? Do we accept their speeches and proclamations and then just “go vote.” Should the rich not hear what the poor have to say? Should gays go unheard by religious conservatives? Should a community not see its own people in the street expressing their hopes, anger or fears? Should libs and neocons just avoid each other, or at least keep their mouths shut, maybe talk about the weather? At the party conventions in Denver and St. Paul, the street was tightly controlled. Would-be protestors were corralled, controlled, cajoled and manhandled, far from the eyes of delegates and national media. I’m not a fan of anarchy or out-of-control mobs, and I don’t like seeing protestors get smacked, smoked, tasered or cuffed, but I sure would like to see more activity by Joe and Jane public. More signs. More buttons. More posters. More gatherings.

You know, as soon as you start talking about war, injustice, equality, taxes, poverty, life, global warming, patriotism or any of a host of potentially polar subjects, you will run into claims and counter-claims, emotions, beliefs, outrage and stubbornness. As long as it doesn’t devolve into violence, that’s probably the way it has to be for our own good. How can we remain cool and detached about these subjects? How can we really, truly “respect” and tolerate a moral or political opinion that runs counter to the very soul of our being? Sometimes, particularly in times like these, it’s more than okay to express a strong opinion and challenge someone about their own. It’s essential.

This is big stuff. It impacts our immediate lives. It impacts our children and theirs. I’ve mentioned before here on CW that I’m disappointed by low voter turnout. One contributor commented that I should be glad; this was democracy in action. I said it was democracy inaction! Twenty-some percent of the public should not be all we can muster to the polls.

Ultimately, it does come down to the vote. We’re 50-odd days away. I think everyone should dig deeper for facts, engage in discussion and, yes, heated debate. Everyone should get fired up, get off their asses, be heard, try to make an impact, try to change minds, try to enlist others, try to bring issues out into the clear light of day … and not just leave it to the speechwriters and media pundits to do it all for us.

In advance, I’m sorry if I come on too strong or offend you with my political views if we get into a talk. But, that’s what this country is supposed to be all about. America was born out of dissent. It was built upon dissent. It was tested by dissent. It grew and matured through dissent. Dissent may not be pretty, but it’s necessary. And it needs a loud, strong voice.

So, are you going to pussyfoot to the voting booth or are you going to march there? Or are you going there at all? What do you have to say for yourself?

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