Conflict is a given in democratic systems. Citizens are expected—nay, encouraged–to bring their different value systems, ideas and political preferences into the public square, where we have not only the right but the duty to make our arguments as forcefully and persuasively as we can. Only after we’ve aired the relevant pros and cons in our lively but civil marketplace of ideas do we select the winners in a fair and square, open process. We elect the most persuasive candidate, or we pass (or defeat) the proposed legislation. Everyone gets a say, we have a fair fight, and everyone abides by the result.
Or so the theory goes.
Unfortunately, this system only works if everyone plays by the rules, broadly conceived. Another way to put that is the system only works if the participants are grown-ups.
I can remember when my sons were small. Telling a two-year-old who doesn’t want to share his toy that “time’s up, now it’s Johnny’s turn” would more often than not be met with a tantrum, and screams of “no! mine!” Some of the footage we’ve been seeing on the evening news has reminded me forcefully of those less-than-idyllic moments of motherhood. We see people showing up at Congressional “town halls” with guns, or signs accusing the administration of being “Nazis.” We’ve even seen people biting each other! (Talk about angry toddlers!)
Now, people are refusing to let their children hear President Obama tell them to study hard and stay in school. (It’s communist indoctrination!)
There’s no polite way to say this, folks. This is nuts.
Now, this is the place in the discussion when someone can be counted on to sputter that they “have a right” to say their piece. And they do. I absolutely agree. But just because you have a right to do something doesn’t mean that doing it is appropriate, or helpful, or smart. Name-calling—especially when it is abundantly clear that the person hurling the accusation has no clue what “socialist” or “Nazi” really means—is about as persuasive as a two-year-old’s shriek.
When people on the left called Bush a Nazi, they made it much more difficult for people with principled and very specific concerns to be heard. When people on the right throw hissy fits, they drown out more thoughtful and reasonable critics, making it easy—if unfair—to dismiss all opposition as unhinged. When we see television clips of people who have gone off the deep end because there is a black family in the White House, it makes it tempting to paint all opposition as racist.
Many of us were dismayed when Bush won in 2004, but he was elected, he was the President and we had to suck it up and live with it. We made our arguments, we registered our protests and we waited for the next election. It’s time for these rabid Obama haters to grow up and do the same.
You win some, you lose some. It’s called democracy.