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"JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS: U-N-I-T-Y Part 4 – Turning down the Rhetorical Heat"
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“Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.” – Thomas Jefferson
Quite by coincidence, the moment I began pondering the question of partisanship a dear friend of mine (who I shall call Barbara) confessed that it would be difficult for her to maintain our 20-year friendship due to our political differences.
I guess I was a little naïve. When I began writing this column more than three years ago, the furthest thing from my mind was that I would reach a million people each week. I never imagined my opinions would elicit so much passionate correspondence and I certainly never imagined I would lose friendships.
In the years Barbara and I have known each other, I have been a trusted friend: circumspect with her business, respectful of her feelings and generous with laughter. Yet, because I worked on the president’s re-election campaign, our friendship is now effectively over. What remains unclear is why I am still able to enjoy her company and cherish her conversation in spite of her enthusiastic and generous donations to Moveon.org.
The difference, I guess, is that I am evil and she is not. Or at least that is the gospel according to Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean. According to the chairman, Republicans are evil. Most recently, the Democratic chairman offered this difference between Democrats and Republicans: Democrats care if children go hungry at night.
That is preposterous of course. Republicans no more want children to starve than are Democrats unprincipled traitors. Yet, this is now business as usual in our political discourse.
And it is not just those on the left who are guilty. There is an old saying that when you point one finger at others, you point three fingers at yourself. Those of us on the right have engaged in our share of outrageous rhetoric. I have not cut off my Democratic friends, but I cannot claim innocence. The fact that I am now mourning the loss of a cherished friend has convinced me that we must turn down the fire. Political passions run deep but what do we accomplish by raising the temperature so high that we are unable to speak to one another, no longer able to recognize each other’s humanity?
I do not have the luxury of discussing in the abstract air of theory issues of importance to this great land. I am a married father of three boys. Do I not care about healthcare? I must provide it for a family of five. Do I not care about education? I have three school age children. Do I not care about our foreign policy? I have three boys who will be called upon to offer their lives and service. The same is true of millions of other families who did not vote as I did on November 4, 2004.
I do not imagine politicians will stop manipulating language in order to divide us along party lines. Alas, that has been a part of the political game for a long time. However, that doesn't mean the rest of us must play along. We can begin to recognize that unless someone is advocating things that are immoral or illegal, our relationships and shared values are more important than our party affiliations. It is also from our shared values that we will find solutions and isn’t that the point?
Since the founding of this nation, America has been a paradox. This nation has been guilty of great wrongs and yet we have also upheld values and principles that have provided a beacon of hope for millions throughout the world. What is clear is that none of us has a monopoly on morality, patriotism or good ideas. It also becomes increasingly clear that our republic and the citizens therein suffer when the exchange of ideas is sacrificed in favor of overblown political rhetoric.
Joseph C. Phillips is an actor/writer with a conservative bent based in Los Angeles. His column appears regularly in several newspapers and he is a regular commentator on News and Notes with Ed Gordon on NPR and has a book due out from Running Press next October. Contact him at: Joseph@josephcphillips.com