Saturday, 26 November 2005

Where does "political enthusiasm" lead?

This morning I received an email from a distant friend who recently looked me up. He asked the question:
I would like to know if America's growing enthusiasm for "politics" is spreading lightness or darkness.
Though I've not asked it in quite that way, that is a question which I've been wrestling with as I view all of the newfound passion being exhibited by citizens for our political process. On the one hand I am heartened to see the dissolution of apathy among many who had been politically dormant. On the other hand, the natural tendency to "choose sides" when personal political passions take hold often results in an unhealthy clannishness, which serves to deepen divides along what I often see as false lines.

David Broder on Washington Week in Review last night spoke of a yearning among many Americans for moderation in the face of all the harsh rhetoric which is being served up these days. I cringed when he gave his example, however, because while I share the desire for greater civility in our society, that civility isn't best reached by simply settling on some mushy middle that supposedly only "extremists" would find objectionable. People of conscience should challenge us at the edges, when inertia would allow injustice to prevail.

We should be very clear. Speaking against injustice, against tyranny, against inhumane treatment, or against killing should not be considered divisive because it is "negative" speech. It is rather attempts to conflate ideologies with injustice, tyranny, inhumanity, or murder which are divisive. I am often unhappy with "anti-conservative" talk among my putative comrades which I see as unnecessarily divisive. I fully defend most of liberalism as an honest attempt to point toward a more enlightened future. I take strenuous exception to the dogged denigration of liberalism by the right wing noise machine. But I do not denigrate conservatism in return, in some kind of tit for tat competition. Sure I will decry what I am usually pretty careful to label as the current Republican leadership in the U.S., because it is my honest judgment that corruption and greed has long since overtaken classic conservatism as the driving force behind it. On a case for case basis, I will still defend a liberal position as superior to a classic conservative position where I believe that to be the case. Such a defense should never be shrill. But there are certainly cases where outrage is appropriate.

In the runup to the 2004 election I interacted with many local Democrats who had thrust themselves into the campaign out of a sincere desire to help our nation return to some sanity. I felt a genuine camaraderie there, and yes some of it was borne of outrage. I'm certain there was genuine camaraderie on the other side as well, often felt by truly decent people who felt they were working toward a noble goal. It too often feels like we're stuck in an us or them dichotomy. I desire a camaraderie which crosses the false divide without compromising our deeply held values. We really don't all need to believe the same thing. We can see the goodness of folks across the divide without sacrificing every radical notion, as long as we retain the humility to recognize that some of our ideas may not stand up to reality.

Hope lies in the possibility of synthesis, not annihilation.


Cliff Brown said...

Politics (and life) are games of tug-of-war. Conservatives pull to the right. Liberals pull to the left. Moderates are in the mud pit trying to push the rope side ways.

-epm said...

Good post, Walker.

Since the new wave of goose-stepping Republicans have come to power I have felt a "political enthusiasm" I never had before. But as I look at the broader American body politic I see a country not concerned with civic responsibility with humility and an eye toward uniting our communities and nation, rather I see people -- pols and voters alike -- treating politics as a contact sport where one side wins and the other is vilified and crushed into submission...