Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Don't Get Sick

Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida is one of my newest heroes, if for no other reason than because he was allotted 5 minutes to speak, and wrapped everything up in less than 2 1/2. At least someone's having fun in Congress.

Meanwhile, Thomas L. Friedman had an interesting column in today's NY Times, drawing disturbing parallels between Israel's political climate of the mid-1990s and the current mood in America.
"I remember the ugly mood in Israel then — a mood in which extreme right-wing settlers and politicians were doing all they could to delegitimize Rabin, who was committed to trading land for peace as part of the Oslo accords. They questioned his authority. They accused him of treason. They created pictures depicting him as a Nazi SS officer, and they shouted death threats at rallies. His political opponents winked at it all. And in so doing they created a poisonous political environment that was interpreted by one right-wing Jewish nationalist as a license to kill Rabin — he must have heard, 'God will be on your side' — and so he did."
Like Friedman, I have no problem with anyone expressing legitimate criticism of President Obama or his policies from either the right or the left. But the criticism from the far right has recently begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. "What kind of madness is it," Friedman asks "that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, 'Should Obama be killed?' . . . Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly."

Obama is having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist,” to shouting "You lie!” in the middle of a joint session of Congress, to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.

Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face, Friedman observes. There is no more “we” in American politics, only "us" and "them."

Friedman goes on to identify the factors that have led to this dangerous situation:
  1. The wild excess of money in politics;
  2. The gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle;
  3. A 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking;
  4. A blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world; and
  5. A permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time, among our leading politicians.
We can’t change this overnight, Friedman concludes, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.

In his 2 1/2 minutes, Congressman Grayson criticizes the Republicans and mocks their lack of a tangible alternative to the health-care reforms they are fighting so hard against. He even goes so far as to say they want you to "die quickly" if you're sick. But he's not trying to scare people with ominous threats of "death panels," or suggest that since he disagrees with their ideas, it would be convenient if someone were to go out and kill someone.

And most importantly, he uses humor, even if it is a bit sarcastic and caustic. But, even in any form, we can use a little more humor in our political dialog.

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