July 30, 2004 United Press International
Shouting at Our Choirs:
Political Frenzies Going Nowhere Fast
an op-ed by John Renesch
published in The Washington Times
2004 © John Renesch
The political left is doing it as well as the right, just using different mediums. Both are screaming at their own constituencies with the gospel according to Michael Moore or Paul Wolfowitz, Al Franken or Bill O’Reilly, documentary movies or radio talk shows.
I’m reminded of how children or immature adults will raise their voices when they don’t think they’re being understood. They start screaming in a desperate attempt to get their point across. Rather than reconsider how and what they are saying they raise the volume. That is what both the left and right wings of American politics are doing in what I’m experiencing as one of the most polarized political climates I have witnessed since the 1960s and Vietnam. It is also incredibly adolescent.
The vitriol and rancor being expressed is killing all of us. What is surprising is that we are shouting in the faces of our own constituents, polluting our own nests! Neither side is listening to the other so all that verbal venom is being spewed at the already converted, the true believers, the choirs to which we already belong. Whether we are a member of The Church of the Left or The Church of the Right, why shout at the true believers in our own congregations? Are we so frustrated that we’re having such little impact on “the other side” that we are whipping ourselves into adolescent frenzies like lynch mobs?
Wouldn’t real debate be a refreshing change? Dialogue might be too much to hope for but genuine debate would be far healthier for all of us, including our wonderful country. Debate, however, demands a much higher level of exchange, a “higher road.” Listening is a requirement. Both sides must listen in true debate. Both sides must be open to having their minds changed. But shouting our points-of-view at each other is not debate and it is nowhere even close to dialogue.
I’m reminded of a time when our country was perhaps the most united and energized, in those years between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s second term as President. An incredibly visionary man, Washington saw a great deal of benefit in having more than one political party since each could learn from the other and, together, they could better resolve situations than either might achieve separately. His fear, however, was that one party would think of their interests as more important than the whole and try to destroy the opposition rather than learn from it. While he envisioned collaborative opposition as contributing to order and unity of a growing nation, he saw what we’d call “partisanship” today as being absolute poison to the vision of our founders.
Lincoln reminded us that “a house divided cannot stand.” Senator John McCain reminded us of a couple of years ago that we are still “an unfinished nation.” Let’s act as if these three men from three different centuries might be offering us some useful wisdom and start behaving in ways that bring us together, seeking the best for all the people, not just those who have joined our camp. “We the people” of these “United States” are in grave danger of losing both our “we-ness” and our “united-ness” forever.
Let’s declare a cease fire on the venom-spewing and focus on where we might learn from each other. Let’s grow up and stop this adolescent squabbling and name-calling. Let us stop traveling down this road to nowhere, this path leading us to becoming “just another country.” Let’s allow ourselves to transcend the adversarial DNA in our culture that our legal system has planted and our media continues to enflame. Let us break free of our adolescent righteousness, our own addictions to the right-wrong game. Let us stand tall for that greatness that Washington saw in this great nation.
It starts here and now. After all, if not here, where? If not now, when? And it starts with us, you and me. After all, who else is there?
John Renesch is a futurist and social commentator who lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future.