Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2004 / 3 Kislev, 5765
In Defense of Discord: Divided We Stand
Apparently it goes without saying that the presidential election has torn us asunder, leaving a divided nation crying out for a more civil union. Not that this has kept newspaper columnists and television pundits from saying it over and over again.
Enough, already. All this talk about restoration and reunion is giving dissent a bad name. Forget our differences? Let's celebrate them.
America has always been a haven for clashing viewpoints liberal vs. conservative, Mac vs. PC, caff vs. decaff, Yankees vs. Red Sox, those who use loud leaf blowers when other people are trying to sleep vs. those who rake quietly. And we have always been split between those who claim to represent traditional moral values and those who represent, well, whatever is the opposite of traditional moral values.
A presidential election doesn't create these divisions so much as it reveals them. Americans are a cantankerous, rambunctious people and proud of it. At least some of us are.
One syndicated New York columnist wrote the other day that Bush won "by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule." There now is a desperate need, she added, "for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together … healing."
Heal what? Discord and disagreement are not diseases. The uncontrollable urge to speak one's mind is not some condition that requires medication. We don't need to get over our differences. If I want to hold hands and pray with total strangers I'll go to church. A presidential election is healthy, mostly non-violent human combat that lets us blow off steam during the baseball season.
The problem with political "healing" is that the cure often is worse than the disease. Unity and teamwork are good for marriage and basketball. But I get nervous when politicians and government officials ask me to "come together" and "work as a team" for the common good. Usually this is code for "Sit down and shut up." The last thing we need are more public servants who feel that harmony and accord are a good thing so long as everyone is in harmony and accord with their viewpoints.
At the risk of joining those who are always quoting Harry Truman, I shall now quote Harry Truman, who, I must point out, is always referred to as the "feisty" Harry Truman. During a 1948 presidential campaign stop in San Antonio, Mr. Feisty accurately said that the election of a new president is not nearly as important as the rigorous exchange of ideas that gets us there.
"I am the servant of the people of the United States. They are not my servants," Truman said. "I can't order you around or send you to labor camps or have your heads cut off if you don't agree with me politically. We don't believe in that. I believe that if we ourselves try to live as we should . . . eventually we will get peace in this world. This is what I am interested in. That is what I am working for. That is much more important than whether I am President of the United States."
In 2004 the world needs to hear Harry's message, that the debate is more important that the outcome, that a peaceful society is not one that elects Republicans or Democrats but one that solves its problems by tolerating all viewpoints, even the really dumb or dangerous ones.
The election is over but conservatives and liberals shouldn't put down their swords; they should put up their dukes and keep them up about how this country wages its wars, feeds its hungry, educates its children and cares for its ill. Change happens not when people become civil and deferential but when they get angry and fed up.
The Bush-Kerry campaign may have set some land records for rancor and divisiveness but it also managed to produce the largest voter turnout in recent history. Maybe the era of complacency is over; maybe Americans are finally ready to study the issues and pay attention to their government. In that case, this is no time to kiss and make up. It's time to rumble.
JWR contributor David Chartrand is a First Place Award winner from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and has been honored by the Society for his humor writing. Enjoy his colums? You'll love his book, author of "A View from the Heartland: Everyday Life in America" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR).
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© 2004, David Chartrand