A distant cousin of mine posted a picture of a sign from the Rally to Restore Sanity that was not very nice. He and I could not have any more discordant political and social belief systems, but I enjoy trading opinions and ideas with him on many issues and he never fails to make me think. And guess what – we never call each other names. My exchange with him led me to write this blog entry about why I believe that anything that tries to “Restore Sanity” to our country is something I wholeheartedly support.
I grew up in a family where “winning” and/or “being right” about things was of the highest value. Claim your ground and stand on it even if it turns out that you were horribly wrong. And, since you are right, name calling and behaving in a disrespectful way is OK, because you are, after all, RIGHT. I have spent a great deal of my adult life unlearning that behavior and that process began when I realized that I was acting more like a 9 year old than an adult. That way of moving through the world is immature behavior and it was time for me to grow up!
So when I see this exact behavior taking over as the as the way we conduct ourselves in public, when name calling and disrespect are a regular (and acceptable) part of our political and personal discourse, it makes me very sad. In the past, especially in times of war, we have given other bigots and ideologues a “bully pulpit”, but for the most part, we ignore those on the fringes who engage in name calling and hate speech. And I do not ever remember learning of another time in history where Americans just believed the most outrageous claims and “facts” without doing one single moment of research for themselves. I am no Einstein, but I know that if something seems incredible and unbelievable it is probably not true. I certainly would not accept it as fact just because some news or radio show host said it.
Thirty years ago we had two parties, widespread political disagreement and many social issues on which the two parties vehemently disagreed. But the politicians did not engage in hate speech, the news endeavored to tell us things that we needed to know without political slant (which they succeeded at most of the time). Now, on the television and radio, people feel free to engage in name calling, obfuscation and, well, plain old lying, regardless of its effect on our country. Our leaders used to hold fast to their opinions on what our country needed, and act on them in their political life and yet be friends in their private lives (Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy for example). Now, if you are on the left and disagree with me you are a communist or you hate America and if you are on the right and disagree with me you are a fascist or a white supremacist.
Which is why I love the idea of a Rally to Restore Sanity. Ultimately, I believe that there is no “side” that has the monopoly and on the name calling and half truth telling that has taken over the airwaves, and BOTH sides are responsible for allowing them to do so. If we didn’t watch them or listen to them, if we didn’t parrot the misinformation, and yes, outright lies, we heard from them, they would quickly be off the air. The rest of us, the great mass of folks who believe what we believe, sometimes with great conviction, are tired of the hateful way in which our politics are being conducted. We know that we can disagree without being disagreeable, we have done it before.
Most Americans wish to listen to each other with respect, because in our hearts we all know that we are better and stronger working together than when we are broken into our own factions, using all our energy to scheme against each other. Maybe we can take some advice from our Grandma. Let’s count to 10 before we say something we might regret, let’s not say anything unless we can say something nice, and let’s not lie. And I would like to have a moratorium on calling each other anything that ends with “ist”. We know that we cannot solve our countries many difficult problems by name calling or yelling at each other. We cannot solve them by telling half truths and getting more people to be on our side. We cannot solve them by blocking each other’s legislation, refusing to compromise and then voting each other’s candidates out of office every two years Now, more than any other time in our history, we need to start acting like grownups. We MUST work together, in the words of Dr, King: “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools”.
It is my most ardent hope that this rally has started a movement of folks who want a return to civility, which I believe is most people. I want us to be able to talk about important, meaningful, REAL things again. I want us to remember our manners, mind our tongues and behave like adults. Is this too much to ask?
Because, as Jon Stewart said at the Rally: “ This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
“If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinist and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more”
May it Be So.