You’ll never get anywhere in a strange land unless you can speak the language. So, in the spirit of Washington, D.C., I’d like to revise and expand my remarks.
In a recent column, I criticized Sen. Barack Obama for his decision not to wear an American flag pin in his lapel. Many readers took me to task for that. One commented that “to state someone is unpatriotic because they don’t wear a pin is ludicrous,” and that’s correct. I certainly didn’t intend to question his patriotism, and I apologize for having done so. Sen. Obama is as patriotic as I am.
Sadly, the furor over the flag overshadowed the point I’d intended to highlight: A FOX News poll about the war in Iraq that found, “11 percent of Americans think the world would be ‘better off’ if the U.S. lost the war, and 73 percent disagree.”
Those numbers are dangerous enough -- one in 10 Americans thinks it’ll be better for the planet if we lose a war. But they’re even more striking when broken down by party. The Oct. 4 poll showed that 19 percent of Democrats think “the world will be better off if America loses the war in Iraq.” That’s one in five Democrats, arguably rooting against our military. We may well be on the verge of finding out whether President Lincoln was correct that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” How did our country come to this?
Well, the popularity of over-the-top rhetoric hasn’t helped. All too often, instead of polite disagreement, we yell at each other. Consider this recent charming e-mail (quoted verbatim) from Terry in California: “I hope their will someday be a Nuremberg like Trial for people like you and you suffer the fate of your ancestor’s! The Nazi’s! WE’RE NOT WINNING! IT’S CALLED GENOCIDE GOOFBALL!”
Sadly, such attacks aren’t limited to wacko blogs, where they could be easily dismissed. They even show up on the floor of the House of Representatives. On Oct. 18, Rep. Pete Stark was wound up about President Bush’s veto of the SCHIP bill. “You don’t have money to fund the war or children, but you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement,” Stark told his colleagues.Days later, he issued a tepid apology. “I apologize for this reason: I think we have serious issues before us, the issue of providing medical care to children, the issue about what we’re going to do about a war that we’re divided about how to end,” Stark said. “I hope that with this apology I will become as insignificant as I should be and that we can return to the issues that do divide us but that we can resolve in a better fashion.”
On his MSNBC newscast, Keith Olbermann sounded grudgingly admiring of Stark’s initial comments. “Obviously he went to extremes there,” he said to Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, “but was there not something refreshing about his at least refusal to back down when somebody came after him?” It was left to Alter to talk Olbermann down a bit. Bush is “a human being and he doesn’t like to see people killed, and to say that he does is just silly and counterproductive,” he observed.
Think about that. Because he disagrees with something a person has said, Olbermann marks him as the “Worst Person in the World.” The absurdity of this was highlighted after the Virginia Tech shootings. Olbermann named conservative bloggers John Derbyshire, Nathaniel Blake and Debbie Schlussel as his “winners.” Indeed, they had made offensive remarks and deserved criticism. But it should be obvious that a shooter is a far worse person than anyone who comments on the shootings.
It’s time to climb down off the ledge. As Mark Steyn wrote at National Review Online in March, “ultimately you cannot function in a free society if you think 50 percent of your neighbors are the enemy.”
Liberals and conservatives should disagree about policy, and we should passionately argue our positions and attempt to convince others we’re correct. But we should also ease off the harsh rhetoric, and recognize that, as Americans, we all need our country to succeed.
From now on I’ll aim to be polite, if strident. As the sign on the outhouse wall used to say, “You aim too, please.”