"We the people," in many ways, get what we deserve from our politicians. When a leader changes her position, she's called a flip-flopper. When a misstatement is made, the snippet is played endlessly on YouTube to the raucous delight of political foes. Fearful of losing votes, the mere admission of a mistake is turned over to the spin mavens to minimize the exposure or to blame the other side.
We complain about the rancor of our political divide, but seem to have no trouble demanding it from our candidates. The base on the far left or right want "red meat" to chew on. When a column is written, fingers fly on the computer as emails are sent and unedited comments are posted online. Since papers, talk shows and pundits want to grab the attention of their customers, the more raw and extreme the comments the more likely they are to be used.
It is no wonder that politicians struggle to build trust. We've trained them that changing their minds, admitting mistakes, or giving credit to an opponent is political suicide.
Don't get me wrong. Our country is built on our freedom to disagree and our vital and, at times, tumultuous freedom of speech. Thankfully, tension is built in to a republic like ours. We may disagree strongly, but we pass the public square test--a citizen can be critical of those in power in the public square and not get beheaded. Many of my respected friends and colleagues disagree with me on political issues. They are not "bad" or "stupid" people; their intentions are good. I hope they have come to feel the same about me.
Two weeks ago, in my Monday column, I made two mistakes that I should not have made as columnist. I attributed an excellent quote to Lincoln that was actually written by Rev. William John Henry Boetcher some 40 years after Lincoln's death. A simple Snopes.com check would have caught my error. Two of my loyal readers who value my columns cared enough to confront my mistake. I also found that I had misquoted President Obama from his State of the Union. The meaning was similar, but it was still not accurate.
It is important to take responsibility not only for one's opinions but one's mistakes. I immediately notified the editor of my error. My concern expressed regarding the incongruity between our President's statement and his actions remains the same, but, hopefully, the lesson learned will result in catching future mistakes before they're in print.
I not only appreciated those who pointed out my mistake; I appreciated the comments of some who vehemently disagreed with my position. J.D. had written, "As a longtime liberal Democrat, I find your columns to be utterly indigestible.... In 2012, Barack Hussein Obama will be re-elected President of the United States."
In addition to sharing my two mistakes, I replied, " I guess we will find out who will have indigestion in November. It will be a hard-fought campaign. Rest assured, such vital campaigns make America strong....It is possible that he will win. Beating an incumbent is difficult. I'm glad you have kind regards. I echo that right back at you. Difference is what freedom demands."
To J.D.'s credit he sent out an email to others and copied me with this admission: "I admit I am a little embarrassed . . . I sent an e-mail to a columnist... And, just out of pure spite, sheerly to annoy and embarrass me, he promptly sends back to me a gracious, courteous, diplomatic reply. Ooooo, I Hate when that happens."
I don't hate it when people who disagree show common courtesy. I thanked J.D. After all, we've all had our share of embarrassing messages we wish we could take back or edit.
Maybe, it's time for both sides to stop demonizing our political adversaries. Is it time to demand the same from our candidates and political leaders? The issues we face as a country are too important to allow distance and name calling to stop us from the dialogue we desperately deserve.