Squandering the Gift of Free Speech
I know many good, kind and generous people. People who love and honor their spouses. People who have been proud and loving parents. People who have a deep devotion to their church and to their God. People who are generous to charities, committed to protecting the environment and are nice to animals.
With the presidential election looming, these same people, people I ordinarily like and sometimes admire and occasionally am related to, are frequently posting things like this on Facebook (I have not changed spelling or punctuation):
- Cartoons depicting the President being pulled over in Arizona with an officer demanding birth certificate and proof of citizenship.
- “Somewhere in Kenya a village is missing it’s idiot.”
- A condemnation of Michelle Obama for buying a snack apple pie.
- An accusation that President Obama does not attend church.
- Direct quote: “note to self - do not discuss, debate, or simply point out something to a liberal. they just can't comprehend. always was always will be.”
- Anti-gay rhetoric and virulent anti-Obama, anti-Democrat and anti-‘liberal’ rhetoric. And this same person also posted a picture that says “Karma: what goes around comes around/Keep your circle positive / Say good words, Think good thoughts, Do good deeds” She clearly does not recognize the irony. (emphasis mine)
- This is also the person who has flat out stated: “I will not be voting for Obama and I will begin posting why. If you like President Obama and plan on voting for him, please delete yourself from my page OR remain silent. Any negative comments or offensive posts will be deleted, so will the offender who posted them.” (emphasis mine)
- Calling the First Lady of the United States “Moochelle” “…because she is a cow.” And getting numerous “likes” and “lol’s”.
- A picture of a dog with the saying “I don’t always pee on political yard signs but when I do they say Obama.” We are talking about the President of the United States here. Figuratively urinating on the President of the United States.
- A picture of Monica Lewinsky with a saying about Democrats that is so vulgar I refuse to repeat it.
- “The Obama Value Meal, order anything you want and the guy behind you has to pay for it.” Attributed to Conan O’Brian, but that is not correct, he never made this ‘joke’. (Verified with Snopes.)
- Sneering references to the ‘scum’ on Medicaid, lazy slobs taking handouts while these upright, hardworking citizens have to carry them on their backs. They apparently forget that I, their friend and/or relative, a person who worked hard my whole life, am now a disabled Medicaid recipient. And that they could become the same in a millisecond.
Reading these things is painful and embarrassing. To me, these are prime examples of what is wrong with our current political process and why I despair of any solution. People are not concerned citizens. They are rage-filled, hate-spewing, knee-jerk responding citizens. It is one thing to state your opinion about political issues, using facts, and alternately being open to someone else’s perspective. It is quite another to state it is your way or the highway and then spout half-truths to flat out lies and not bother, or care, to find out what the facts are.
I was not a fan of George W. Bush, to say the least. And I was not shy about saying so. But I would never have endorsed a laughing reference to a dog urinating on his name, and by extension, him. I would never have referred to Laura Bush as a ‘cow’. I respected her as a dignified, educated woman who was devoted to her family. Exactly like Michelle Obama.
Many of these Facebook criticisms are distorted factoids. The Obamas go to church. Perhaps not every Sunday, but neither do a lot of otherwise very good people. There are numerous images of them attending services at the beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, which is right behind the White House. They have worshipped in other churches as well.
President Obama has a valid birth certificate and is a legitimate citizen of this country. His birth announcement was in several Hawaiian papers when he was born. Do people really think a conspiracy could stretch back that far and be that widespread? Come on. Consider it from this base but true perspective: people are blabbermouths. A secret like that would be just too juicy to keep.
There are many more such mis-statements or attributions. But my main point here is the lack of civility, the absence of reasonable, objective consideration. It is bad enough to lump all Republicans or Democrats into labeled cubbyholes, leaving no room for compromise or discussion. But to belittle people who hold high office, and doing the same to their unfortunate families, is simply unproductive disrespect.
I am no saint. Search my blogs and Facebook pages and you might find the occasional snide political remark. But I have become more uncomfortably aware that it is too easy to turn the tables on that sort of commentary, too easy to have it turned back on you. Because they are cheap shots. And I have become increasingly dismayed by the ugliness of the messages, on both sides, and the unfairness of them. Especially, now, for me, the cracks about lazy, greedy recipients of Federal benefits.
It is an important part of the democratic process to be openly critical when needed. I do want politicians called on their actions. Or inactions. But called respectfully. I want civil dialogue, not tit-for-tat sniping. I want responsibility and caring for the future of America. It is going to be an expensive future, without a doubt. Being the best comes at a price. But cost does not have to be financial hemorrhage. Bipartisan, rational oversight of government programs can achieve responsible spending.
Why is everyone not demanding an end to the name calling, the mocking, the blame? It distracts us from the true issues. Michelle Obama ate an apple snack pie? Ok, she is a champion of healthy eating and reducing child obesity. But what was probably a 150 calorie snack was newsworthy? It is shameful that non-incident was a focus instead of, say, profiling the Affordable Care Act, examining what parts work well and how it might be improved to make it a law that is not simply humane, but truly fiscally responsible. There are a lot of smart people out there. Imagine what could be accomplished if there was cooperation. Instead, we have perpetual log jams of hostility over almost every problem facing our country. Self-interest rules. The focus is on being right, not doing right.
Philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt called it the banality of evil. Ordinary people who are ordinarily good can be capable of incredible hatred and dangerous, contagious animosity. We have to get it together, America, with together being the operative word. Will reason ever prevail? Can anyone appreciate the power and dignity of respect anymore? Civil discourse is our only hope for action that will benefit all Americans. I am so afraid we are never going to get there.