I always love the beginning of the political primary season because, despite its warts and endless rants, it is like the first week of school; filled with possibilities. I have carefully watched the candidates of both parties come and go, say stupid things, do even dumber things, lie, make false promises, and dissemble their own spotty histories. It is, indeed, a spectator sport.
But ever since the Reagan years, the tone of political exchanges has spiraled downward. It began with Reagan’s answer to any challenge: “There you go again.” How rude! How evasive and snarky! My opinion of his eight years was that it was not Morning in America, it was Mourning for America.
Later on, during the Clinton Administration’s troubles, mostly tracking to Bill’s exceedingly poor judgment regarding his personal antics, then-Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich fired both barrels at Clinton and kept up the barrage which served no purpose other than to distract the country away from the very real problems of the day. Things like the bombing of the Nigerian Embassies that killed more than four hundred innocent people. So while we were lookiing at Monica’s dress stain, Newt was trying to redo our Constitution with his Contract for America. Or, as many of us saw it, his Contract On America. It was filled with rules about social mores and forbidden human behavior, along with massive tax cuts for only the wealthiest. Sound familiar? This, as Newt the Husband dumped his second wife who was hospitalized with cancer to marry wife number three. Only after Newt’s blatant violation of House rules did his own Party drop kick him out the door.
Ironic that Newt is the one who is now claiming to take the high road. In this election cycle, the high road can be found about two floors below Hell. Honestly, have you ever heard such vitriol? Such hatred? Such demeaning statements about others? Such vile characterization of entire groups?
I’m not talking about what the candidates say about each other. I am referring to their relentless attacks on the very people who are getting slapped with most of the budget cuts. Single mothers who are having trouble finding work. The elderly on fixed incomes who may also be physically limited or ill. Those who would give their right arms in exchange for freedom from mental illness. Returning soldiers with brain injuries who have nowhere to turn for treatment.
Apparently, politicians and candidates feel they must first label the groups as evil, lazy, and greedy before diving in for the kill. So far, $1 trillion has been cut from social services. An additional $1 trillion cut is hanging over the heads of Congress like the Sword of Damacles entirely due to the failure of Congress to do their job.
Can you even imagine being disabled, or having lost your job after twenty years, or having to declare bankruptcy due to the failure of your insurance company to pay the bulk of your medical bills? Then having the government yank out from under you the little bit you have been given after a lifetime of paying taxes accompanied by being called all sorts of nasty names by representatives of that same government. These are public servants who are too cheap and too lazy to pay for their own lunch, instead charging it back to the taxpayers. Being vilified publicly by the very same people who are defending to the death the rights of the wealthiest to NOT pay taxes at the same rate as the rest of the country.
How would that make you feel? It infuriates me. It enrages me to see the bullies stomping all over the little kid and enjoying every single moment. We worry about cyber bullying. Guess where the kids learned it. Guess why they think is is not only acceptable, but it is making the smart moves. Get him before he has a chance to get you.
This coarsening of public discourse has even turned the worst transgressors, the Tea Party, against their own Party cohorts. They believe that obeying some rule that they have made up is nobler than doing their jobs, no matter who will be damaged by their obstinacies and ignorance.
Let’s take a moment to think through our discussions at home. When you teach your children, what do you want them to learn? How to get ahead at any cost? Or how to be a fine human being and a shining reflection of what this bold and unlikely political experiment called America can be. You can teach them to cheat and cut corners, telling them that the honest students are just fools. Or you can spend a minute wondering what life would be like if you could not ever walk again and needed help going through a doorway. I have had the doors intentionally slammed in my face as a young mother pushing a stroller, literally. I will never forget the look on the man’s face as he saw me approaching. He sped up his last few steps, grabbed the door, and slammed it in my face. Wonder if he is now a congressman.
My dream is to return to the days when the worst thing that a politician could do was to mangle the English language in a stump speech, instead of destroying the lives of citizens in order to keep his wealthy campaign contributors comfy. My dream is for Americans to do something, anything that makes this country a little better for someone else. That is my definition of patriotism. Am I alone?