Friday, January 14, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Much has been said over the past few days about political rhetoric--mostly about how we all need to tone it down. For my part, I say: Don't be so hasty.

There are two parts to my thoughts about this. First is that political rancor is the price we pay for democracy. If name-calling, information-skewing, and childish taunts are replacing the jack-booted thuggery of fascism or the mealy-mouthed platitudes of a dictatorship disguised as a socialist paradise, then I'm all for it. A free citizenry is smart enough to figure it all out, even if we're all embarrassed in the process. Free speech is awesome and the cornerstone of liberty, but that also means we have to put up with Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann.

The second part is that this is nothing new. Go to any history book and look at the placards and bills that were posted about Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin , or, hell, for any campaign in the 19th century. Newspapers were partisan organs for political parties, and hurled invective at each other for over two centuries. In fact, I don't think there has been a period of our history where political insults weren't the norm rather than the exception. Think of it as having every media outlet--whether it be television, radio, or print--be Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow. Somehow, despite this, we managed to survive.

Of course, most people think of political bickering as a mild irritant up until someone does something about it--such as gunfire against elected officials. But it seems this is a convenient thing for everyone to point blame at, because it's easy and can score some political points; it also makes everyone feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, it's also wrong. And this can become dangerous if we fixate on that instead of the real problems--in this case, the mental state of Jared Loughner.

This isn't really a defense of empty political posturing. We are better as a society when our arguments are cogent, intellectual, and substantive. But it's ridiculous to think its abolition will solve anything. Despite the current exclamations otherwise, firebrand political opinions don't cause violence. Tim McVeigh and Loughner didn't commit crimes because they turned on talk radio each afternoon--there was already something seriously wrong with them independent of political opinion. Calls for using politics to force the tone of dialogue runs a very real risk of tampering with freedom of speech.

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