Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Republic of Me

Remember when we all used to live together in a shared country? (Together being the operative word) We didn’t always get our own way (some of us spent a long time trying to figure out exactly who voted for McGovern, and then, later, for Dukakis; and then, even later, for the SECOND Bush) and we tended to favor the notion of having one political party in control of the White House while the other one was in Congress. We had infinite shades of grey, anatomically and otherwise. Now we have the most abrupt, bruising and brusque form of non-nuanced conversations in all the years I've been carrying around this belly-button.

To review, and the list is by no means exhaustive or inclusive: we have birthers, cut and runners, stay and kill ‘em alls, take your hands off my health care, make the bankers jump from the highest open windows in burning buildings, wise Latinas are better than middle-aged white guys (ahem; Judge Sonia, Usted está caminando en el lado de la lucha de mí) with celebrities of every stripe weighing in on topics ranging from world hunger (hello Bono!) the environment (Hello Leo) to every issue in between (Chuck Norris; yes, that Chuck Norris).

And it's almost fine. We have clenched jaws and hard eyes and hardened hearts, but that doesn't mean we can't talk-it just means we won't, I guess. Somewhere we decided two diatribes equals one dialogue and I GET TO GO FIRST! (sorry). If we yell AT one another long enough, from a distance somewhere in space it will look like we are talking to one another. Respectful disagreement has gone the way of the dodo bird. If you don't agree with me you are the most awful person in the history of the planet, as are everyone else related to you, everyone else related to them and everyone any of you know. Wait a minute-when I do that much finger pointing some of the fingers on that hand point back at me. Hmmm.

Labels such as 'liberal' and 'conservative' are now pejoratives hurled like discount store invective at opposing viewpoints, appropriate or not, and the reaction to the labeling obscures quite nicely any opportunity to see the person we've just tagged. Now all we are is disagreeable when we disagree. And we engage in preemptive shouting matches with one another in forums supposedly designed to let us exchange ideas and views. The longer the meeting, the louder the yelling and don't even get me started on the understanding (the smoker you drink, the player you get).

I read an online note from someone the other day who insisted 'health care isn't in my copy of the Constitution!' and as a joke, I shared that neither is "freedom of speech" (his or anyone else's). Rather, all of that is in the Bill of Rights (technically the first ten amendments to the US Constitution) which was created in reaction and response to concerns by well-meaning people (we'd probably call them 'kooks' today) about protection of personal liberties from a federal government not yet in existence (we had, after all, just defeated the most powerful nation on earth and were still a little touchy about folks telling us what to do). He didn't appreciate my tongue-in-cheek observation and was eager to suggest I stick my head between two other cheeks (which, I think, would have made it more difficult to see his point of view, but that's just me).

Back in the day, we talked things out and arrived at consensus through reasoned discussion and debate. Now the line between gee-willikers and jihad makes it almost impossible to discuss anything. I mention this because in the fall we have countless thousands of local elections across these United States and we owe it to those whom we've nominated for office to speak in coherent and complete sentences about what we want and what we feel we need and how we propose to work together (that's a key phrase in my house) to achieve rebuilding our country.

You can't shake hands with people who have balled fists and maybe it's just me but this knuckle bumping horse hockey is so ten minutes ago. We need to learn once again to speak in complete sentences and respectful tones to one another, one at a time and then move on to larger groups. Eventually, we might get the hang of how we used to do all of this, back when we all lived in the same country at the same time. History needn't be a mystery.

-bill kenny

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