Friday, March 26, 2010

Hate or Civility?

Is it just me, or do the tea baggers sound like the same folks spreading all the lies about candidate Obama in 2008? I heard the same racism, sexism, homophobia, and fear-mongering over a year ago. Most voters heard it too, and that's one of the reasons the Republicans lost so significantly in 2008. The old hatreds, fears, and ignorance still grip a large minority of Americans, but most voters rose above it in 2008.

The tea baggers and far right have sure tried to turn the tide against health insurance reform. They did about everything except to set themselves on fire in the city streets. Every lie, distortion, and dirty trick was used. And to think that THEY are the ones who want to talk about a "back room" deal. The Republicans in the Senate are the ones that forced health care reform into any such deals by refusing to partner in reform. They were more interested in short-term political gains than in helping to solve one of the nation's most serious problems. Any "back room" deals fall on them. Perhaps it is their Waterloo.

These purveyors of ignorance, lies, and hate temporarily swayed some public opinion to their side. Extremists like to use the idea of the "big lie": a lie that you tell often enough that people start to believe it. However, people are getting more savvy about the facts. Maybe it's the Internet and hundreds of channels of television to chose from. Now that the details of the final health care legislation are getting news coverage, people are seeing how they will benefit. Opinion is moving back into the support column, according to opinion polls. As I see it, here's actual proof that education can overcome ignorance.

The so-called public debate was a shame really. There are many legitimate points of disagreement over this legislation. There could have been a real debate and intelligent discussion about real issues. Instead, we heard the rabble of ignorant voices, with the right wing talk jockeys fanning the flames of discontent.

There are many "true believers" who will never be persuaded on health care, who will never give an inch on civil rights, women's equality, gay rights, and...well, will never believe the truth about President Obama's birth, or anything written by so-called experts, as witnessed by the Texas textbook controversy. Calling someone an "Einstein" used to be a compliment. Have you noticed how people use it as a pejorative term these days: "What? Are you some kind of Einstein or something?" Ignorance is in fashion for some. And demagogues know how to use that ignorance to their advantage.

I expect that the Democrats will lose seats in both houses of Congress this November. Some of the losses may be because of health insurance reform, but I think that most will be lost because of continued high unemployment (if the numbers don't improve by then) and by the cyclical loss by the party in power in off-year elections. I would be greatly surprised to see huge swings that would cause the Republicans to win both houses of Congress. You see, I still have faith that many Americans do see through the crap and get down to the facts and what is true. I don't know if most of those Americans will actually vote this year, but I hope so. And to be fair, there are many people on the other side of issues who are intelligent and thoughtful. They just get drowned out by the crazies.

What bothers me most about these tea baggers is I think their political speech has reached a fever pitch. The level of diatribe teeters on the cusp of incitement to violence, and actual violence as we've seen lately. I am a staunch defender of free speech. I realize that the speech that needs the most protection is unpopular speech. However, we have also learned that shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, to use an old metaphor, is incitement and not free speech. So, where do we draw the line? It's not easy, but there is a limit. I hope no one gets hurt in the process.

We all need to step back and take a personal inventory. How tolerant are we to others who hold different beliefs? I like to think that I can talk with most anyone. I don't drop friends who have different political or religious beliefs, although I've had friends drop me for those very reasons. I will defend my beliefs with others, but I try to do it in a tone of discussion and not yelling. In most cases, we have to agree to disagree. Politics alone should not be the determiner of who your friends are. There are other things such as a person's sense of humor, how people care about others, someone's honesty and loyalty, the similar pastimes we enjoy, etc. that should guide our friendships more than politics should.

Change starts with each of us. We can't control what the talk jockeys say on the radio or television, but we can refuse to listen to them. We should also evaluate those forces in our lives that are negative and get rid of them. If enough people did this, perhaps the harsh atmosphere of current public discourse could cool off a few degrees. Then we could once again be able to have national conversations instead of mud wrestling matches or fist fights. What future do you want for America? Hate or civility? The choice is yours to make. It starts with you and me.