How strange things have become.
Last month, as part of what I perceive as a civic duty, I watched both political conventions. It is mildly informative to witness our parties trot out their soaring oratory and wacky political theater. There is something distinctly American about these events that fascinates us, despite the fact that they are now essentially irrelevant.
At any rate, in the midst of both conventions, something troubling happened.
Here’s what transpired.
The Republican convention came first. Like many from Wisconsin, I wanted to see how Paul Ryan would do on a national stage. The speech was all the more interesting for this writer because, through a strange set of circumstances, I spent an afternoon watching a Badger football game with an affable Mr. Ryan from the Chancellor’s box at Camp Randall. (Yes, the Chancellor talks to legislators from both parties. Imagine that.) I have not watched many football games with future vice presidential nominees, so I thought it would be fun to see the Janesville guy on prime time TV.
The speech was even more interesting because Wisconsin, a state that most Americans can’t locate on a map, casts a large political shadow these days. The Walker administration has been in the headlines for two years. And now we, in a land of what had been blue cheese, have been labeled a swing state in the presidential election, bringing even more political drama and noise into our lives.
As if we need it.
That night in the Republican hall both Ryan and Condi Rice gave pretty good speeches. As an independent, I surely don’t agree with everything for which the two of them stand, but given the fact that we had to listen for eight years as GB2 shredded The King’s English, it was an utter novelty to hear not one, but two, passable speeches from Republicans in one night.
So it was with that perspective that I posted a comment on Facebook regarding Ryan’s speech.
It read simply, “Ryan did well.” I didn’t endorse the guy or his policies. Didn’t debate his interpretation of the facts. Simply stated that, speech wise, he didn’t fall flat on his face.
A flurry of scathing posts followed, ending with one supposed friend suggesting that because of my comment on Ryan’s speech, I was pro rape. After considering that remark for a couple of days, I delivered the ultimate Facebook verdict and unfriended that person. Gasp!
In fact, I think the opposite. I hold that we should discuss all three topics regularly, because they are among the things that matter most.
I also believe that good, smart people can disagree. Even on Facebook.
But the last two years have made that attitude difficult to maintain. The level of intolerance we currently have for each other’s political leanings is utterly appalling. Wisconsin folks are naturally affable. What has become of us?
Firstly, both parties spend millions every election to drive us apart. They tap our most flammable emotions with cynical polling calculus. Worse yet, they are getting progressively better at it because with each election, their budgets get bigger and computers faster, which in turn makes us act progressively worse toward each other.
Secondly, with the rise of talk radio and cable, we never get a break. Fox mercilessly ridicules Obama and the Dems while MSNBC hammers Romney and the Republicans. Instead of adding objective reasoning to our discourse, these greedy, hideous little media outlets throw gasoline on the fires of ignorance for profit.
Somewhere Edward R. Murrow is puking.
There is a final reason we are uncivil. We are all victims of a devastated economy. Businesses are failing. Homes repossessed. We are angry and scared. So we become ripe for demagogues, who pick at hope and civility like vultures on a carcass.
But still we carry on. We always have.
As for this election, like any good American, I am grateful to all the politicians for their service, and will continue to trust none of them.
As for unfriended friends, redemption can be had. But for peace of mind, I am imposing a new rule for the remaining partisan months.
Avoid those who are sure they are right about everything.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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