Please, don’t define me by my politics

It seems to me that politics has taken an increasingly dark and intolerant turn.  Yes, I know there has always been negative campaigning and hostility in politics, but it seems that the overall nastiness has become increasingly “grass roots.”  It seems more and more acceptable to disagree with someone’s political perspective and then go the extra mile of attacking them personally and discounting and debasing those with whom we disagree.  Our disagreement on political issues says very little about our humanity other than at the most extreme levels, when these views find expression in aberrant behavior, cruelty, and intolerance.

I have many friends from all sides of the political spectrum.  These are people I like and respect.  No doubt we consider the other “misguided” on various issues, but this makes the friendship no less valued and can even lead to some stimulating banter.  Does not how we treat friends, family, neighbors, and those less fortunate say a lot more about us as human beings than how many ticks on the grid we stand left or right of center?  Indeed, I would say we can divine more about a person’s character by whether they hold the door open for an elderly person or let someone merge into their lane than by their position on a host of divisive issues.  Agree to disagree and move on, and maybe, just maybe, open our minds to the possibility of some kernels of truth emerging from a mouth other than our own.

Sadly, once we elevate our own views to sacred, claim an exclusive to the moral high ground, and declare another person or group “unworthy,” it is but a short step to oppress them.  Here in this little town, I have seen people rip campaign signs from doors and windows - one instance from each major political party.  How sad to think one’s self so elevated as to have the right to silence another.  Witness an increased tendency of special interests to deny a forum to those with whom they disagree.  Whatever happened to free speech and the right to express views . . . short of shouting fire in a crowded theater?  I don’t know that I would bother attending a speech by Ann Coulter, but it would never occur to me to block her from speaking (as was successfully done at my alma mater Fordham).  We simply vote with our feet or peaceably protest, as is our long-standing and sacred right.  As Ben Franklin advocated, can’t we all doubt our infallibility? 

Witness the recent Opera based upon the seizing of the Achille Lauro and the death of Leon Klinghoffer.  I have no interest in seeing it.  Evidently, many find it offensive, and have seen fit to protest; that is certainly their right.  Some have peaceably protested outside the Opera House.  Others have heckled and interrupted the performance (ironically, necessarily buying a ticket and supporting the show).  Peaceably protesting is one thing.  Enshrining yourself as the arbiter of what is suitable viewing is another is something else entirely.  Perhaps, in addition to the Oliver Wendell Holmes crowded theater quote, the right to free speech also ends when it is used to oppress the protected free speech of another?

And one irony, if we drill down just a little bit, we may find we agree on a lot more than we disagree and that the difference is often less of the principal and more of whether that principal is best addressed federally, locally, or dare I say, even in some instances by market forces and the private sector.

When we elevate our views to the level of exclusivity with an inherent right to silence those opposing us, we undermine the very foundation of this country and the countless lives sacrificed to protect it.

So vote, assemble, speak out, protest, but can we be a little less inclined to revile those with whom we disagree?

Oh, and hold the door open for that sweet old lady at the polling place.


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