Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#53, September 21, 1999


by Marylaine Block

Maybe it's because I'm a "Washington Week in Review" sort of person, but I can't stand the nastiness of our discussion of public issues. I hate people yelling and interrupting and calling each other names, no matter who's doing it - and ALL sides are doing it.

  1. Way too many liberals use the terms "Nazi" and "racist" in place of the more accurate term, "people I disagree with"

  2. Liberals call those who worry about how media affect children "Puritans" and "know-nothings"

  3. Pro-life supporters call women who seek abortions murderers, while pro-choice supporters say pro-lifers "don't care if women die."

  4. Newt Gingrich supplied fellow Republicans with a list of adjectives such as "corrupt" and "degenerate" to use whenever they mention the word "Democrat" and blamed Democrats for Susan Smith drowning her children

  5. The Governor of Oklahoma has called public school teachers "slugs" and "parasites."

  6. Louis Farrakhan calls Jews "wicked deceivers of the American people"

This is not discussion, it's politics as WWF. The goal is not to shed light on issues with information and reasoning, but to score points with body slams. Not that this kind of rhetoric is new, of course -- 30 years ago returning soldiers were called "babykillers," and I didn't care for that either. There is a lot more of it, though, because of all those cable channels, talk radio, and the web.

In these discussions, nobody is assumed to be well-intentioned. Reporters and pundits explain all politicians' actions in terms of crass political self-interest, without even a hint they might have thought they were doing the right thing. The press stated, as if it was verified fact, that Clinton pardoned FALN members solely to help Hillary with Puerto Rican voters, although none of the reporters bothered to present any evidence. But reporters told us nothing about the issue itself, and failed to explain why the Pope and many other international leaders urged Clinton to pardon them.

Many of us are disgusted by political dialogue that assumes people are either heroes or villains, with no shades in between. This just doesn't match what we know to be true: people are more complicated than that. We all have friends who we love dearly as long as we agree not to discuss politics. We know they are as good-hearted as we are, even though they have somehow arrived at different conclusions.

I know pro-life people who work together with pro-choice people because they share an interest in stopping unwanted pregnancies. I know agnostics, Jews and Christians who work side by side in food pantries to feed the homeless. During VietNam I knew conscientious objectors who refused to fight but nonetheless worked as medics, saving injured soldiers.

How can we make our political discussions more enlightening and civil?

The first step may be to ask, when we hear extreme statements, "Does this make any sense?" Surely when Dr. Laura said librarians who didn't use internet filter programs were not decent people, many people must have said "Huh?

If it doesn't make sense, the next step is finding out the facts. It's a simple matter, after all, to ask librarians how they make the net a safe and enjoyable experience for kids. It's easy to look at the library's web pages, where we can read the library's internet use policies, and see the safe and delightful web sites librarians have selected for kids.

We could also politely ask people who use divisive rhetoric to explain their reasoning and evidence, and ask them why they substitute name-calling for reasoning. We could resolve never to watch that program again, and write the sponsors and network to explain why.

And we could laugh in their faces because what they claim is so preposterous.

However we do it, our rhetoric is a disease we must recover from if "E Pluribus Unum" truly matters to us. If we DON'T turn many into one, we run the risk of turning into Yugoslavia.

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