Democrats & Liberals Archives

Boorish Political Behavior

One unfortunate side effect of the politically charged atmosphere we Americans live in right now, is the thoughtless and uncaring behavior which comes out when people get so emotionally invested in their desire for a particular outcome, or the dominance of a particular world view. The flip side is that it’s encouraging to see so many people make the connection, and see the relevance of public policy on their lives and on our society.

Even if people don't get it quite right, or focus too narrowly on side issues, I think it's actually a positive thing that the level of engagement is so high. But because Americans aren't used to that, the discourse too frequently descends to shouting and name-calling, and that certainly is not good. My hope is that when the election is behind us, and we all realize that we're still here living together, that engagement can translate into a more civil discourse based in the knowledge that there is no imminent election and the improvements we need to work toward are long term efforts which will require the cooperation of folks with different opinions.

I don't claim to be immune from the negative side effects of political passion. I'd like to think that I would never grab a sign from the hands of a child (or anyone else for that matter) or shout down a veteran marching in a parade - two instances of boorish behavior by Bush detractors, which I've seen reported. But I did catch myself nearly shouting on the phone in a conversation with my aunt this summer, and I've talked with friends who admit that they've gotten too carried away.

Some tend to take a bean counter approach to these incidents, but that proves nothing that we don't all already know. There are boors of every political persuasion, and their presence or number has nothing to do with worthiness of any particular policy position. Feeling cornered can bring out the worst in some people, so as the pendulum swings in one direction, those at the other end will feel marginalized and sometimes act out in unseemly ways. For that reason if instances of misbehavior by Bush detractors outnumbers those of his supporters this season, as I suspect is likely the case, it's not really a surprise.

Most candidates for public office behave themselves reasonably well in public, leaving any misbehavior to surrogates who can spread innuendo, while absorbing most of the backlash in lieu of their candidate. Kerry and Bush were both mannerly in this week's debates, which came as no surprise to this observer. People from both sides will attempt to read ill intent into the reactions of the candidate they oppose, but ultimately it is the policies which are paramount in making this awesome decision of whom to entrust with the reigns of the most powerful government on earth.

Between now and the election, I will continue to make the case that the Bush administration represents a danger to our continued well-being, our environment, our security, and our freedoms. Through it all I will continue to respect many fellow citizens who have earnestly come to a different conclusion. Many think that I ought to also respect our President. Well, I don't. I can't. I've said before that I can't know what's in George W. Bush's heart, and that's true. But I would be disingenuous if I didn't also admit that I suspect the worst, if not of George, then of those whose bidding he slavishly follows. What I do know something about is his policies, and consistently they bespeak a contempt for many of my most strongly held values. About that, I cannot be silent.

I've already made the case that the political spectrum in this country is oversimplified, and that almost everyone has a mixture of conservative and liberal values, and other values not neatly labelled as either. What I find so objectionable about this particular administration and part of the leadership of the House of Representatives is not WHERE they fall along some left-right continuum, though I do feel they are significantly to the right of the mainstream, but the total lack of empathy for anyone or any group which stands in the way of pushing their agenda, and the wanton disregard for the concerns, and yes even the lives, of the downtrodden, when those concerns are at odds with the moneyed interests which prop them up.

Much of the right in this country misjudges many like me, who they see as "Bush-haters". I think they believe that our "liberalism" is a misguided justification for loose moral behavior, and that we see ALL conservative values as a threat to our agenda. But that is wrong. Speaking for myself, I think it is essential that wise conservative voices continue to have a place in our national discourse. I genuinely share some of their values, and respect others which I may not share. Importantly they also share some of my liberal values, whether or not they label them as such, like concern for the dispossessed and the sense that society has the responsibility to take care of its least fortunate. George Bush mouths some of these values, but his policies tell a different tale, the details of which I'll not attempt to address in this post.

John McCain in contrast has frequently broken with his own party when a bill was too harsh or not consonant with some of the basic human values he believes in. If McCain were the President today, I am next to certain that there would be little energy in the Presidential race. There would be respectful debates, but the result would be a foregone conclusion. There's not a Democrat who would stand a chance. The angst you now see from the left in America would be centered on Tom DeLay and other corrupt politicians willing to sell our democracy to the highest bidder. But there would be a lot less angst. McCain would have been Presidential in his approach to 9/11, and built on the unity that we felt (and yes I felt it too!) in those dark days in 2001. I can't know what would have happened in the Middle East, but I'm certain it would have been better planned and I doubt that we would have so alienated our European allies.

No the hue and cry one hears against Bush today is the direct result of Bush's own doing. It's not because of how far right he is, but because of how far wrong he is. Without the fear that this administration has nurtured out of the tragedy of 9/11, this would be no contest. But getting beyond the fear, and finding hope and possibility is exactly what we need to do. I don't pretend that John Kerry is the perfect answer for that, but I am certain that he is at least a step in the right direction. Not only that but the Republican party will be strengthened by Kerry's winning, as it will be forced to find more moderate voices to carry it forward.

In the meantime, we will all do well to remember the humanity of our neighbors, regardless of what they happen to be displaying in their front yard or on their bumper or their lapel. We should not avoid discussion, or be afraid of what they will think of us by revealing our views, but we should be civil. Most of us will still be here on November 3rd, and we will still be neighbors.

Posted by Walker Willingham at October 3, 2004 11:25 AM