A Black Friday tragedy that should have each and every one of us thinking really hard about ourselves.
The throng of Wal-Mart shoppers had been building all night, filling sidewalks and stretching across a vast parking lot…
Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him… Emergency workers tried to revive Mr. Damour, a temporary worker hired for the holiday season, at the scene, but he was pronounced dead an hour later…
â€œWhen they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, â€˜Iâ€™ve been on line since yesterday morning,â€™ â€ Ms. Cribbs told The Associated Press. â€œThey kept shopping.â€
“It’s important as I said on election night that we enter into the new administration with a sense of humility and a recognition wisdom is not the monopoly of any one party. In order for us to be effective given the scope and the scale of the challenges that we face, Republicans and Democrats are going to have to work together. I think what the American people want more than anything is just common sense smart government. They don’t want ideology, they don’t want bickering, they don’t want sniping. They want action and they want effectiveness.”
— President-elect Barack Obama in a news conference this week on the economy
Neither of my kids spent much time on the seesaw at the park in their younger days. If I had to guess why, it would be that it was a little too much work for a day at the park. It was rare when they got a seesaw partner who didn’t require serious weight and momentum adjustmentâ€”sliding forward or backward, pushing hard at the bottom to get your end back up in the air, or, as was more often the case with my slender little girls, perched suspended three feet up, pretty much unable to control a thing.
As my sixteen-year-old has grown into a young woman, she’s been exposed to many a political dinner table conversation from the perspective of my side of the political seesaw. But as much as she’s heard me yammer, I’ve only now just noticed that she’s suspended in mid air with her feet dangling, no where near solid ground. I’m afraid I’ve been responsible for providing her only half the argument in a country that requires citizens to understand the whole one.
Trying to give her a shove back down to terra firma, I’ve had a series of conversations with her aboutâ€”ultimatelyâ€”what I deeply believe. There’s been a bit of personal political archeology involved here, as, in the daily shuffle, there are times when I’m too immersed in the veneer to reach for the foundation. Here’s where I found my foundation: What lasts, what matters from all of our daily political struggles is what keeps America who we are. What matters is the two-party system that creates a tension of opposites, the left keeping the right from marching into fascism, the right keeping the left from slipping into communism. What lasts is the best ideas that rise to the top, the product of our endless, sometimes painfully difficult dialog. Were it not for the tension, the struggle, we wouldn’t be America.
When power concentrates on one side of this non-stop American seesaw, it’s time for the grown-ups to give it a firm shove on one side. I sense the American public is ready to give a firm parental shove right about now too. But there is risk in this weight adjustment when we’ve been so used to pushing hard and having nothing happen… we risk that we’ll send the other guy miles into the air. Okay, so I’ll admit it, right now that may not seem so bad, but pause for a moment to consider what happens after the other guy’s fanny lands back on the seesaw. I never took physics but I’m fairly sure that all that energy has to go someplace and it may not be pretty when it does.
So, here’s to keeping the big picture in mind as each “side” shoves to get more momentum… hoping there are enough grownups to keep the traffic on the seesaw well-behaved.
**This post represents the genesis of the thinking that would ultimately become The Village Square. I first wrote “The Seesaw” in March of 2006, when the Democrats had no political power. Now they control both Congress and the presidency.
The seesaw works both ways, folks.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” –Mark Twain
From an Amazon review of Os Guinness’s The Case for Civility:
“… Guinness charts a course for “a civil public square” in which citizens of any religion or of none are allowed and encouraged to let their voices be known and to respect those of others. He argues against both “the sacred social square” (where pluralism is defrocked and one religion dominates at the expense of others) and “the naked public square” (in which religious citizens are not allowed to participate socially and politically on the basis of their deepest convictions).”
Perhaps he’s onto something…
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
–Abraham Lincoln, in his first Inaugural address,
as quoted by President-Elect Barack Obama in his acceptance speech.
As we move forward with civility after Tuesday’s election, it’s worth it for critics on the left side of the aisle to note the grace demonstrated in the loss on the right side of the aisle. Do I hear the sound of bygones being bygones? Well, you just never know…
“I urge all Americans … I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited…” –John McCain
“No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country citizens voted in large numbers. They showed the watching world the vitality of America’s democracy and the strides we have made towards a more perfect union. It shows a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story. It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife Michelle and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House.” –President George Bush
“One of the great things about representing this country is that it continues to surprise, it continues to renew itself, it continues to beat all odds and expectations. You just know that Americans are not going to be satisfied until we really do form that more perfect union and while the perfect union may never be in sight, we just keep working on it and trying…” –Condoleeza Rice
Worth remembering, as dissent is about to flip to a different side…
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it. — Edward R Murrow
Lea (the conservative) usually takes muffins to the young staffers at the Republican campaign office in election years. That’s pre-Village-Square.
Post-Village-Square… Lea called me (Liz, the liberal) and suggested that the better thing to do would be to take muffins to both the McCain and the Obama campaign offices. So, this morning we loaded up 2 baskets with an assortment of homemade muffins and Village Square bumper stickers and buttons, then made two of the more unusual visits the campaigns have likely received.
On the beautiful card Lea made:
The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.
— John F. Kennedy
*RATED R FOR NON-VILLAGE-SQUARE-ISH LANGUAGE*
Suggesting that our civic discussion has turned incivil is a vast understatement. Alas, even here where we are all about civility. Take this comment I received on this post referring – I assume – to Kathleen Hall Jamieson (who was on Bill Moyers yesterday):
You made a total asshole of yourself tonight on Bill Moyers. I used to have the utmost respect for you. You above all people were a true speaker of truth.
Not any more. *** Barack should have paid for Mcasshole to have his own half hour on TV … I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but Bush, MCcain and their ilk hate America and its citizens and your infanantile musings will do nothing other than speed up the attempt to destroy this country.
HOW COULD YOU END UP TO BE SUCH AN IGNORANT CUNT?
This example, left-leaning hatred. But any discussion of hatred has to cite right-wing talk radio and its endless hours of shoveling fury.
JEFFREY FELDMAN quoted on Bill Moyers Journal: “Our system is a deliberative democracy. And that deliberative democracy depends on a certain kind of talk, a certain conversation in order to function well. What right-wing rhetoric does, when it reaches that violent pitch, is it undermines that particular conversation, such that the focus of political debate, becomes increasingly hamstrung by fear, and the ability of citizens to engage in the basic act of civics becomes gummed up. That conversation breaks down.”
These examples are given:
MICHAEL SAVAGE:”Liberalism is, in essence, the HIV virus, and it weakens the defense cells of a nation. What are the defense cells of a nation? Well, the church. They’ve attacked particularly the Catholic Church for 30 straight years. The police, attacked for the last 50 straight years by the ACLU viruses. And the military, attacked for the last 50 years by the Barbara Boxer viruses on our planet.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “Oh, you’re one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today, go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis.”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.'”
MICHAEL SAVAGE: “America is being overrun by an invasion force from Mexico that’ll soon take over the country[…]you psychotic liberals don’t even know you’re digging your own grave and throwing lime in there. All that’s missing is the worm from the tequila bottle to go with it.”
MICHAEL REAGAN: “Take them out and shoot them. They are traitors to this country, and shoot them. But anybody who would do that doesn’t deserve to live. You shoot them. You call them traitors, that’s what they are, and you shoot them dead. I’ll pay for the bullet.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”That wasn’t the cries of the downtrodden. That’s the cries of the useless, the worthless. New Orleans was a welfare city, a city of parasites, a city of people who could not, and had no desire to fend for themselves. You have a hurricane descending on them and they sit on their fat asses and wait for somebody else to come rescue them.”
NEAL BOORTZ:”It’s Ramadan and Muslims in your workplace might be offended if they see you eating at your desk. Why? I guess it’s because Muslims don’t eat during the day during Ramadan. They fast during the day and eat at night. Sorta like cockroaches.”
NEAL BOORTZ: “I already have received at least one brilliant email today about the immigration problem […]this person sent me an email, said when we defeat this illegal alien amnesty bill and when we yank out the welcome mat and they all start going back to Mexico, as a going-away gift let’s all give them a box of nuclear waste[…]tell ‘em it can, it’ll heat tortillas.”
These people aren’t helpful to conservatives, just as my poster isn’t helpful to liberals.
Hateful polemics serve their argument, their cause, and our country, poorly.
Don’t miss Constitutional Amendments 101 tonight!! 5:30 to 7:30 PM, bring your favorite take-out and learn about the six Florida ballot measures.
UPDATE: Thanks to all 8 of our panelists this evening, who were informative, knowledgeable, professional and – I’m partial to this one - civil. And thanks, also, to our audience who comported themselves with equal decency and grace. If anyone involved in the discussion has a factual issue they’d like to convey, send it on to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get it up on the blog.
Also, please check 2 posts down for our resource guide on constitutional amendments.
As the ugliness and emptiness of campaign ads does a final 2008 ramp-up, it’s time to re-run a favorite post:
NPR Weekend Edition’s Scott Simon:
Do you remember when candidates used to appear in their own commercials? Many of them seemed a little stiff wearing a sober suit and white shirt framed by an American flag, a bust of Lincoln and family pictures as they made obvious, irreconcilable and insupportable promises.
“I will improve schools, hire more police, teachers and trash workers and lower taxes, create jobs, and get snow, guns and homeless people off the street by being tough, fair, generous and stingy to all of our citizens , regardless of race, creed or hair color, the number of toes they have or whether they were ever stupid enough to vote for my opponent. I welcome your support.”
I miss those ads. At least they gave you a glimpse of the candidate talking about issues, even in hilarious non sequiturs. These days candidates hire consultants to publicize the names of their opponents just so they can splash mud and slime on them. It’s as if Coca Cola bought ads just to show people taking a swig of Pepsi Cola and spitting it into a gutter.
The candidate used to at least risk rejection by asking, sometimes pleading “vote for me” in his commercials. Now they hide behind hired voices who ask “you aren’t really going to vote for that guy, are you?” Then have the candidate mutter at the end like some nine-year-old being forced to admit that he hit the baseball through the window “I approved this message.”
There’s an old Madison Avenue adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Many current campaign commercials don’t even try to sell sizzle, they just hurl sleaze. People who create them are using the expensive power of articulation to produce messages that are just about as mature as kids razzing each other on the playground.
Look, I’m from Chicago, I love covering politics there and still follow it like a contact sport. I know, as the old Chicago columnist Findley Peter Dunn wrote in 1898, “politics ain’t beanbag.” It has always been rough because the stakes are high. I am not one of those people who says “I wish we had a high-minded political system like they have in Canada.”
The sad fact is that candidates and soft money groups run vicious ads because the evidence is, they work. We might be appalled but we often follow through.
When ads become so personal, intense and insulting it’s difficult for the candidate who survives, I won’t even say “wins,” to climb atop the ooze and act like a human being, much less a statesman. And difficult for voters to respect or trust who they’ve elected, in spite of what they’ve been told. These ads may help candidates win the game, but they also risk tearing up the field and burning down the stadium.
By the way, my name is Scott Simon and I approved this message.