Back in September I wrote a piece decrying all of the rhetorical attacks that were coming from both the right and left.
Now, in the wake of the Arizona shooting — that had nothing to do with vitriolic rhetoric as some claimed, but sparked a debate about it nonetheless — I’ve decided to open up the vault and bring this Perspective back.
For often self-serving or spiteful reasons political leaders and followers alike, on both sides of the political dogfight, want to hurl epithets at the other side.
Ask a liberal about conservatives, and suddenly that sweet lady down the street becomes a fascist, freedom-hating, Islamophobic, anti-poor, fanatical anarchist.
Ask a conservative to describe liberals, and his nice, dedicated coworker becomes a socialist, freedom-hating, terrorist-loving, pro-Big Brother, anti-Constitution communist.
Do you see the disconnect here? For some reason it’s in vogue to demonize your political opponents with all sort of insulting, unreasonable, and idiotic names, yet your political opponents are often your next-door neighbors.
Depending on whom you ask, both sides are Hitler-loving Nazis. Leaders on both the right and left seem to love this “Nazi” language.
Apparently to prove your liberal or conservative credentials you have to hurl unfounded accusations, comparing any dissenters with Hitler. Instead of making any real difference — except with, maybe, their rabid supporters — these bombastic leaders only polarize the other side and discredit themselves with most level-headed Americans.
Rush Limbaugh has unabashedly compared the Obama administration to Nazi Germany.
Pelosi has claimed that Obamacare opponents were “carrying swastikas” to townhall meetings and claimed that the protesters were “un-American”. Not to be outdone, Harry Reid called Republicans “anti-American” when they were filibustering the Wall Street regulation bill. Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida said during the health care “debate” that “Republicans want you to die quickly.”
The list of prominent politicians and pundits who have invoked this sort of rhetoric is seemingly endless.
And we all know that this virulence isn’t limited to the talking-heads and politicians. Average-Joe liberals and conservatives love to bash each other at rallies, on the internet, in print, on the radio, and even face-to-face.
Here’s the problem with all the vitriol in politics today: When we dehumanize people, we make them nothing more than zombie followers of a movement. No longer are conservatives and liberals actually people who live all around us, instead we have turned those who disagree with us into radical caricatures of the movements they identify with.
If you’re not willing to tell your liberal friend that he’s a socialist, American-hating, Nazi, then don’t brand liberals with any of the above titles. If you are willing to call your liberal friend those names, well, you probably won’t have any liberal friends.
The same holds true for liberals. Don’t throw those Islamophobic, fascist, extremist titles at conservatives, unless, of course, you just enjoy being unreasonable and annoying.
Is it too much to ask that we disagree, but do it politely and with tact?
Disagreements are a necessary and central part of any democracy, but vitriolic name-calling isn’t necessary, and while it may be central to the politics of this democracy, it shouldn’t be.
If a conservative actually is Islamphobic, call him out on it, and condemn the views, but don’t automatically brand all conservatives as Islamophobic.
Conversely, if a liberal really does think the Constitution is evil, challenge him on it, but don’t assume that all liberals want to throw Constitution out and replace it with Marx’s Communist Manifesto.
Civility has never been a strong point for this nation when heated political issues are in play. But as of late there has been an escalation of ad hominem attacks against whole movements.
Ideas are still being offered up and debated in the public arena, but these ideas are all but obfuscated by the insults being hurled back and forth between ideological groups.
Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama didn’t win their respective presidential elections by demonizing their opposition; instead they offered hope.
So, no matter what political persuasion you are, take a page from the playbook of winning politically, and stop demonizing your opposition. Not only could it help you win, but it’s also the right thing to do, which should count for something.
And besides, it’s just not nice to level unfounded, unreasonable accusations, you bunch of freedom-hating Nazis.
(Elijah Friedeman, author of The Millennial Perspective, is the grandson of Janice Friedeman, Great Bend. His columns can also be heard on his father, Matt Friedeman’s, radio program on American Family Radio.)