“Nixon, Nixon, He’s Our Man! Kennedy Goes in the Garbage Can,” the Daisy Ad of LBJ’s presidential campaign, “In Your Guts, You Know He’s Nuts,” which was also LBJ’s Campaign. It would be easy to believe that the current political climate is a product of the nasty campaigns of the past few decades. But as far back as the late 1800s, political campaigns have appealed to our lesser natures. I doubt many remember Grover Cleveland’s slogan, “Blain, Blain, John G. Blain — Continental Liar from the State of Maine”, or Blain’s rejoinder,”Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha,” basically accusing Cleveland of fathering an out-of-wedlock child. Scandalous, scurrilous stuff.
These epithets seem quaint in today’s poisonous political atmosphere. Some of us trace our political animus to events like Nixon’s Watergate Scandal, believing President Nixon to be the Devil incarnate, or a hapless victim of overzealous campaign aides, depending on your point of view. Others cling to the Iran-Contra debacle as a reason to sully the reputation of President Reagan. Many believe that President Clinton was treasonous in selling satellite guidance technology to the Communist Chinese. Who can forget the hotly contested election of 2000, where the spectacle of vote counters squinting over hanging chads on ballots filled the evening news, or the accusations of the “birthers” about President Obama. And now, the wholly political impeachment of President Trump, which can easily be seen as payback for the way the Republicans hastily sought to remove Mr. Clinton from office.
The fact is, from Robert Bork to Clarence Thomas to the latest fight over Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, American politics have continuously degraded to become something more resembling a street fight with knives than the miracle of a democratic republic we have long idealized.
The advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and the explosion of cable and internet news sources, have more than just polarized the voters, it seems that they have almost been driven insane. Politicians of all stripes lie with impunity, seemingly held blameless by a compliant press, or so we’re told. Conversations about politics now have to come with disclaimers, or even instruction about how to talk to each other during family gatherings. In fact, in some cases opinions are now called “hate speech” or “micro-aggressions,” (whatever those are).
I say all of this to make a point that was brought home to me by Ian Sandefer’s opinion column in the Jan. 26 edition of the Casper Star-Tribune. Mr. Sandefer made a cogent, thoughtful and professional presentation of why he believes that witnesses should be called to testify in the impeachment trial of President Trump. He made arguments that I totally disagree with, and when I hear politicians on TV make them, I tune out, turn the TV off, refuse to listen. But I read Mr. Sandefer’s column with interest. Why did I pay attention to his arguments when I would normally dismiss them because of my own strongly held views?
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The simple answer is because he happens to be my neighbor. I know him, if only slightly. But what I do know is he loves his children and his partner. He has been nothing but kind to me. I know him as a human being.
It is all too easy to hate those who think differently than we do, or that we only know what we see on TV. I know, because I have been guilty of such feelings. And worse, I have on occasion been condescending, rude, even hateful to those whose political views are different than mine. During the last presidential election cycle, I engaged in an exchange of letters with a local, liberal Democratic politician running for the state Legislature. For his part, he politely put forward his views, views which I found anathema, and to which I replied with derision and scorn. It took a road trip for me to reflect on the immaturity with which I had responded, and I was so convicted that I apologized to him, first by letter, then in person during a chance meeting in a local restaurant.
I claim to be a Christian. But the second greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is “Love your neighbor, as you love yourself.” I confess that, in this and sadly other areas of my life, I have fallen far short of this standard. But it has been especially true in politics.
I have grandchildren, and the last thing I want for them is to see political assassinations, campus violence and bombings by radicals — all trying to affect political change — like we saw in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. But I’m afraid that society, fueled by the types of passions I described, is headed toward an unpleasant future. We must step back from the brink.
Over the past few years, I have built relationships with some liberals, whom I call friends. Our conversations can be contentious, but they are never hateful. Because I know them. They have the same desires I have: to raise happy families, to pursue their own goals, to save for the future and to enjoy the blessings of liberty.
To be sure, there will always be voices calling us to the extremes of either point of view, but is it worth destroying the basic decency that is to be had in polite, reasoned, considerate discourse to listen to those voices? Am I the only one who realizes that our rhetoric, both on the national or state stage or personal level, is getting out of hand? Of course not. We all recognize it, even if we don’t admit it. It is not always just “the other guy.”
I will continue to vote against abortion of the innocent, and for those libertarian principles that I believe in. In conversation, it is my goal to be reasoned and calm, like I see in Mr. Sandefer. I will probably never stop yelling at the TV or radio. But I will not tear down another or make ad hominem attacks simply because his or her views are not the same as mine. I will instead choose to love, or at least try my best to do so. “Let There Be Peace on Earth, And Let it Begin With Me,” or, hopefully, you.
Jack Phillips lives in Casper.