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Gray Watson Personal Thoughts 2004.10.29
Political Vitriol

I've taken a 2 week leave of absence from Lycos and have been working up in Salem, New Hampshire for the Kerry campaign. I've been answering phones, making calls to voters, holding signs at intersections, working on computers/wiring/networks, driving supplies to other offices, taking out the trash, cleaning up, etc, etc.. Whatever it takes.

The other day we took a bunch of people from the office to counter a visibility showing by the Bushies down the street. I got talking to some Bush supporters next to me. I'm so passionate for Kerry that I'm always interested to hear how others, passionate citizens and patriots like myself, can support the opposition. It took them 15 or so minutes to temper the vitriol so we could have a reasonable exchange.

It worries me extremely that this divide exists in our country. That 45+% of the people are passionately on one side or the other and think the other side is crazy or worse, unpatriotic. The talk around the Democratic office where I am working consistently makes sweeping generalizations about the character and behavior of all Republicans and I can only assume that the local GOP office does the same. I can only hope that whichever leader we elect next Tuesday will make an attempt to engage the opposition and draw the country back together -- although I'm not sure how realistic this is. Actually, one of my reasons that I am voting for John Kerry for President is because I think he will do a better job at this.

We have so many labels these days: Republicans/Democrats, Left/Right, Conservative/Liberal. It is so easy to categorize and generalize people till they've lost all humanity. So easy to say that the Republicans are fascists or the Democrats are wimps. So easy to turn individuals into some amorphous abstraction. But reality never plays properly by these rules. Conservatives are supposed to conserve, to like the status quo, but the Neos now talk about an international push for peace through military intervention. Liberals are supposed to be for increased Government programs but it has been Republican administrations in my lifetime who increased public spending more. Both sides proclaim that they want more freedom -- except for the bedroom and the gun rack.

One of the things that I learned when doing personnel reviews during my stint as manager at Lycos was not to attack a person's character. You can't call a person "lazy" but you can point out that he has been caught sleeping at his desk multiple times. We shouldn't say that George W. Bush is an idiot but we can point to his speaking gaffs. Saying that someone is unpatriotic is an especially terrible and extremely hurtful characterization. So much of the post 9/11 language was revolving around patriotism at a time that we should have been having more debate and listening more to intelligence and reason. Hindsight is always 20-20 but people's response to 9/11 was much more frightening to this self proclaimed patriot than any other in his life. I was infinitely more afraid of our "leaders" waving the flag and screaming about patriotism that I was about the terrorists. Read the history books about the descent of Germany into Naziism and you will catch glimpses of post 9/11 rhetoric.

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to greater danger. It works the same way in any country. -- Hermann Goering, Hilter's 2nd in command, during his trial at Nuremberg.

Although both parties have considerable blood on their hands, I do blame the current administration and Republican party leadership for some of the recent divide. "You're either for us or against us". Their push for a Constitutional amendment in support of heterosexual marriage that they knew would not pass in an attempt to put people on one side of the fence or the other -- is an attempt to separate and put distance between the forces of "right" and "wrong". But it's never that simple. No laws are all good or all bad. All issues have varying degrees to them. Everyone talks about how hard it is to "draw the line" but it gets draw every day in every law and with every belief.

Even the "litmus test" issues such as abortion are not completely cut and dry. Is it murder if a woman's body does not allow a conceived bundle of cells to attach to wall of her uterus because she's taking some drug which she doesn't realize has side effects? How about if she and her boyfriend are playing around the next morning and she gets hit in the stomach which causes a miscarriage? What if she wants to have a child in two years after she finishes college and takes RU-486, the so-called "Abortion Pill", after her boyfriend's condom breaks. What if she has 3 children already, is bearly making ends meet by holding down two jobs, cannot afford in any manner to have another child, and she and her husband didn't realize that antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills. What if she drinks too much one evening at college and is raped in her dorm room by someone that she trusted. These issues are only cut and dry by ideologues and zealots in a vacuum. The rest of us struggle to plot our location on the sliding chart on every issue and should respect everyone else who is likewise struggling -- even when we end up with distance between our points.

One of the things that fascinates me is that if we take the time, we have a great ability to have a conversation, to share understanding, regardless of how far away from each other we seem politically. I have a lot of incendiary text content on my site including Suicide on 9/11 and Israel vs. Palestine. These pieces generate some very passionate and usually angry responses. But even with a huge amount of initial distance between myself and the individual on the other side of the Net, by the end of a couple messages we are having a conversation and almost always finding common ground. Sometimes the discussions make me want to edit and tune my content, to better explain my point of view because of misunderstandings. Sometimes it causes me to move on an issue although this only happens over time.

I urge you, if you are American or not, to spent time to understand your opposition. We must continue to acknowledge that caring intelligent people are on all sides of just about all issues. Captured communications between the terrorists demonstrate that they worry about their families, have internal organization politics and gossip, and hope for the future. I'm not saying that this in any should reduce people's responsibility for their actions but it hopefully will create a more measured and less reactive planet. We need a free flow of ideas -- conversation and understanding about all topics. Our planet requires it unless we want the insects to ultimately rule the radioactive slag.

Dig this. No one is ultimately correct on every topic. No one can see completely clearly through the rose colored glasses we all wear every day. No one is perfect.

That is, except for me.

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