This is an openly political entry which will have, at best, a glancing musical reference in it somewhere, just for the sake of form. Forewarned is forearmed! (Durga, on the other hand, is eight- and sometimes even ten-armed, and is therefore considerably better.)
The American right wing - the right-leaning public, I mean, not the politicians - is pretty upset about the President's proposed treatement of what he, and much of the public, sees as "the immigration problem." All well and good. The only way forward is dialogue; this is always true; democracy is founded on this very notion. When somebody disagrees with us, we should thank God instead of digging in our heels. Civilized dialogue is one of language's greatest gifts to humanity, right after love songs and 419 scam emails.
The art of American politics, however - a cynical and base art even in the best of times - has, in this era of mass communications, sought to frame dialogue as something perhaps to be hoped for but always impossible under the present circumstances. The sooner a politician can allege that compromise with his opponent is impossible, the better, according to presently-governing rhetorical standards. During elections, we'd expect to see lots of this, but at present it is always the preferred method of advancing one's cause. Demonize the other side; exaggerate all terms by which one characterizes the opponent's position until only caricatures are left; then flog the caricature ceaselessly and declare victory over what was, at best, a misrepresentation.
We have seen such misrepresentation day in and day out since the dawn of the current administration, and as soon as the country was taken to war, we have seen it at fever pitch. Talk radio, blogs, television commentators, newspaper commentators, any right-leaning source of information resorts first last and always to questioning the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with "the mission" (itself a pretty loaded phrase, given that the mission does seem to change at the whim of those who initiated it). People who oppose the war in Iraq are said, ridiculously, to be "on the side of the enemy," as if there were only one way to skin a cat. (There are many.) People who disagree with the administration's policies are described as "hating America." That this is utterly absurd should be obvious even to a child. I disagree strongly with my wife about whether one ought to leave the oven door open after baking something. She grew up where it's cold; I just can't stand doors left open. Does this mean that I hate my wife? Or our house? Or the stove? If I refuse to agree on this subject with her, or she with me, are either of us "undermining" our marriage?
No, of course not. The target-NPR-demographic bumper sticker says "dissent is patriotic," and it's true. It will be true when a Democrat is in office and Republicans disagree with him or her. Dissent is always patriotic in a democracy. And so, when Peggy Noonan, a longtime supporter of the Bush administration, writes in today's Wall Street journal to complain about the President's (and his allies') rough treatment of conservative opponents to his immigration plan, the irony is almost too rich to bear. Most notably, she writes:
"Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens?"
From this question, she ventures rather far afield, deciding that the answer is "we must take back the party." This is practically a standardized routine from op-ed writers for any party. All parties everywhere have been getting "taken back" since Athenian days. However, I believe I can more honestly answer Ms. Noonan's question. Why would the people who now hold positions with which you disagree speak so mean-spiritedly about you, standing on the other side of the question? They would do so because the very targets of their present hostility have taken much delight in setting a rhetorical stage on which such insulting, hostile terms are the only ones used. Concerned citizens worry that climate change will harm the planet, endanger wildlife, hasten the spread of disease; these concerned citizens are dismissed as tree-huggers, or hippies, or chicken littles. Concerned citizens worry that America will lose something of its soul that it can't get back if it should resort to torture in trying to protect itself from attack; these concerned citizens are said to hate America or even to favor the rule of Islamic law. Concerned citizens can't see why their gay friends shouldn't get married; they're accused of hastening the collapse of our culture. Nor are left-leaning editorialists any better, in their rush to congratulate themselves for having come up with new schoolyard terms with which to ridicule and belittle the very people with whom they ought to be speaking, even arguing passionately - but honestly - in order to make progress.
No-one who has helped in degrading the content of our political speech has any right to complain when their own preferred style comes back to haunt them. If you throw rocks at your enemy, you can't cry "no fair!" when a rock hits you in the forehead. Ms. Noonan and anyone else who has profited by the coarsening of political dialogue has no right to complain now that such coarsening has become the default position. She has made her bed; it is now unfortunately time to lie in it. Even more unfortunately, our own beds aren't going to be much better, because it isn't just Those Bad People I Disagree With who've made their beds. The whole thing's been a collective effort of monumental short-sightedness, and more stupid than I can really say. Wherefore I am going to listen to some grind metal and mosh around the living room until I feel better, or until I get tired.
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