Monday, May 12, 2003

A Poisoned Well?
The political dialogue over the past decade has become increasingly vitriolic. I do not know for sure that it began during the Clinton administration, but the allegations and smear tactics used against the President and his wife seem to be much more acidic than any such criticism of either of his predecessors. While I am sold on the notion of a vast right wing conspiracy, there was certainly an element of the right wing that wanted nothing more than to take down the President. And they were Machiavellian in their tactics, no low was too low. The pure hatred and vitriol spewed by Rush Limbaugh, the American Spectator and various other publications and commentators was nothing short of outright hatred.
The same can be said for a segment of the left wing, today. Since the left lacks much presence in talk radio, the job of hacking away at the President has been left to blogs and websites, with assists from a handful of commentators. Much of the hatred comes from what the left perceives as Bush's stealing of the 2000 election. Just as Clinton's critics drew upon their hatred, Bush's antagonists clearly loathe the man. There are people who opposed the war with Iraq merely because it was Bush in the White House.
The rhetoric of each group of Presidential haters displays a level of outright hatred and rage never before seen in American politics. To those individuals, Clinton or Bush represented pure evil. Each President has had his motives questioned and his morality doubted. For the groups that oppose each man, there can be no good to come of either one. They see each man as outside of humanity, somehow.
But it goes even further than that. Our politics has become so poisoned that each group questions the other's goodness. It is no longer about policy differences over which good people can disagree. Rather than debate merits, groups are more likely to slam each other and question their loyalty to America or to the common good. GOP tax cuts can only be driven by their love for the wealthy and hatred of the poor; Democratic questioning of Bush diplomacy can only be driven by anti-Americanism.
This type of screeching has replaced dialogue in American politics. And it has left most Americans disenchanted, disenfranchised, and distraught. But there is good news, I think. Over the past several years I have been able to meet a good cross section of people. I've lived in Boston, St. Louis, Delaware and upstate NY. I have worked with poor families in Cambridge; edited a play for a recovering alcoholic in Delaware; rubbed elbows with NY's political class; introduced to the gay subculture in both St. Louis and Boston. I have gotten to know people rich and poor, black and white, educated and uneducated, young and old, gay and straight. And what I have learned is that we all want the same thing- a good society, a better world. We may approach it in different ways, and that is fine. We should not aspire to be a monolothic society. America's great strength is her diversity and we need to listen to each other. But we need to begin from a point of mutual respect and a realization that we all share the same ultimate goals. The people outside of politics get this. It's just too bad that those who are a part of the political dialogue simply don't.


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