Monday, January 30, 2006

When Politics was Humane

The summer between my junior and senior year, I interned with my congressman in Washington. I was 20 years old and spending two months meeting people that I had seen only on TV. The highlight? Getting the chance to hear Nelson Mandela, who had only be released from prison a few months before, speak before a joint session of Congress. But that's another story for another day.

What I remember most is meeting a fellow intern, named Dan. He was from Arkansas and a diehard conservative. (I was more liberal back then.) Instead of pigeonholing him, I got a chance to really know him. I didn't always agree with him, but he changed my opinion of people who were far more conservative than I was.

I think about Dan because if you look at the political climate today, we live in a very different world. Today, we have winners like Ann Coulter joking about poisoning a Justice of the Supreme court. People like Coulter, Micahel Moore and others are basically pugilists that are spoiling for a fight. They see those who disagree with them as pure evil that needs to be removed.

David Broder opines in Sunday's Washington Post about the relationship between President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neil. The two didn't agree on policy, but Broder describes a relationship where both men cared and respected each other greatly.

Somewhere along the way, the partisans of today stopped thinking of those who might have another view as human beings. Maybe it's that we have created such safe partisan universes where ideolouges can feel safe and secure and never have to actually listen to another viewpoint. Conservatives can read magazines like the Weekly Standard, listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News. Liberals can read The Nation, listen to Al Franken and watch CNN. Conservatives read blogs like Powerline, while liberals read blogs like Daily Kos. Conservatives saw President Clinton as liar and worse. Liberals see President Bush as a liar and... you get the idea.

(Hell, there are even dating services for the politically like-minded.)

Twenty years ago, it was not as easy as it is now to cocoon yourself into a world where everyone believes like you do. And maybe back then people weren't so damn self-righteous. These days, people don't think they are right, they know they are. And if you know you are right, then you don't need to really listen to anyone else.

In a way, the highly partisan atmosphere we are in tells me that we are a less critically thinking society than we used to be. If you believe that you have the truth, owning it lock, stock and barrel, then you don't really have to think about things. Everything is black and white. However, if you believe that they truth is not so easily attainable, that the truth is something that you have to search for, and that you can find the truth in some unexpected places, then you are opening your mind up for different viewpoints. You start to think about things in different ways.

The relationship that Reagan and O'Neil had seems like a distant memory. I pray that we can see that kind of political friendship someday soon.

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