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A Few Words on Hate and Politics

6

Nothing turns me off like partisan anger. I know a lot of people like to get wrapped up in the false fury propagated by certain partisans, but I try to keep my irrational outbursts focused primarily on my beloved Dallas Cowboys. I don’t really understand those who feel the need to bring the gladiatorial spirit to the realm of politics.

Perhaps my temperament is due to the simple fact that I grew up a Democrat in a profoundly Republican town. Rage was useless. The only hope I had of joining a political discussion was to speak reasonably and acknowledge the intelligence of my opponents. When such niceties were impossible, I learned to hold my tongue.

During the Bill Clinton years, I was profoundly turned off by the unceasing Republican attacks on Clinton, particularly the most scurrilous rumors spread by talk-show hosts. I came to believe that Republicans were uniquely gifted at proliferating hate. My response was to not vote for a single Republican between 1994 and 2001.

Then something radically changed my view.

I moved to Washington, DC and came face-to-face with the underbelly of my own “side.” During the first four years of George W. Bush’s presidency, I saw a level of hate and anger that shocked me. From enraged marches to hateful signs hung on lampposts to casually spewed vitriol at cocktail parties, I discovered that unhinged partisanship and blind hate is not a disease congenital to only one party or one political leaning.

By late 2004, I had become an independent for a variety of reasons, not least of which was my inability to continue tolerating the hatefulness on my own side. Then I joined the blogosphere in early 2005 as one of the few “centrist” voices and encountered a noise-storm of hate that made my personal DC experiences seem like a tea party. Much of the animosity emanated from the left in a desperate and unyielding attempt to portray Bush and his Republican colleagues as the largest bunch of crooks, thieves and murderers to ever lead a nation. I quickly learned that going against leftwing orthodoxy was the surest way to get my comments stuffed with hate-you-grams.

Interestingly (predictably, even), that intense level of vitriol quieted some after the Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006. It even quieted in the lead-up to that election as the usual instigators busied themselves with the very real possibility of victory. Now that Barack Obama looks poised to take the White House and complete the total Democratic takeover of the U.S. Government, I have a hard time finding examples of truly hateful lefty speech, except here-and-there in comment sections and at the fringes where even Obama is considered part of the American imperialist conspiracy.

Suddenly, when it comes to partisan anger, we’re talking about unhinged John McCain supporters. I’d like to think that this rightwing nuttiness is just a temporary loss of bearings due to the election. But I’m afraid the modern political landscape is too ripe with fervent partisanship to avoid the kind of impotent rage from the right that we so recently saw from the left. In my most cynical moments, I’m afraid the shouts at McCain rallies are just the tip of the iceberg.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re reaching a fatigue moment where the over-emotionalism of the last decade-and-a-half will quiet down. Maybe with an economic slump and a better-executed war abroad, we can exile the hate to the fringes where it belongs. And maybe Obama will surprise the hell out of me and actually be a uniter. Whatever happens, I’ll still be one of those annoying independents telling people to simmer down and trying not to get upset every time I’m accused of false equivalencies. Because, the thing is, hate is destructive, whether it’s just a little bit of hate or a whole lot of hate. And if you’re not speaking against it, you’re tolerating it.

Anyway, that’s what’s been on my mind today.