Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Political Rhetoric

I was a little disturbed yesterday when listening to the Craig Fahle Show on WDET in Detroit.  He was discussing the violent rhetoric that runs rampant from both the left and the right of America's political divide.  Everyone who was interviewed or who called in was more interested in getting in their zinger than they were in engaging in substantive talk about the issue at hand.  The entire debate reminded me very clearly of a conversation I had with Gumpy when I was young.

When President Reagan was elected for his first term, I was seven years old.  All I really remember of that election was how upset Gumpy was at the outcome, yet is was my first memory of politics.  Gumpy was open about his politics with me, even at that young age.  Dinner at Ema and Gumpy's was always accompanied with the Sony Trinitron TV blasting the CBS Nightly News, followed by the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour on PBS.  I would end up with many questions and receive many answers from Gumpy.  He was certainly passionate about his politics!

One day, Gumpy was completely exasperated by something he read in the Lansing State Journal.  It was probably something to do with the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike because it was Reagan's shot across the bow to unions that he intended erode the gains unions had fought hard to win.  This was always a sore subject given the amount of work Gumpy did within the union to help his fellow members.  I had commented to him that I wished the President would just hurry up and die.

Gumpy stopped everything, turned to me and exclaimed, "Never speak that way about anybody, especially the President!  I might not agree with him but you NEVER wish death on anybody!"

It was the first and one of the few times, I remember Gumpy ever scolding me.  He was always a praise first type of person.  For him to address me like that was completely out of character and was absolutely sobering for me.  He really had a lot of respect for the office of the President, even when he did not agree with the person in office.  I watched him over the years always criticize an action a politician rather than criticize the person.

From then on, Gumpy and I would focus on the political issues.  Informed debate was the order of the day when politics was the subject.  There were several times we did not agree, President Clinton and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was one of those times.  Our national security was one of those topics where we rarely found common ground.  Yet the debate was not personal, and that is what spurred my intense interest in politics.

That is what disturbed me about what I heard on the radio.  Callers on both sides of the aisle were more interested in getting off pot shots than about making a meaningful contribution to the conversation.  The guests were more interested in steering the debate toward issues of their interest, not the issues they were on the air to discuss.  All seemed to refuse to directly answer questions.

People venting their spleens do nothing to move our country forward; it serves only to further divide and enslave us.  People engaging in honest, informed dialogue can kick start ideas that help us create a more just society.  I am glad I had Gumpy to teach me that lesson.