October 7, 2004

Political Discussion 10-7-04

I must take you to task a little bit for your recent approach to debating. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of all the non-political issues you’re having to deal with lately, although they do sound like campaign issues, strangely enough. But when, over the course of several emails, and then in person, you make generalizations about me and those who share my beliefs, and put words in my mouth that you know darn well I would never say, much less feel to be true, and equate me with some of the worst tyrants of recent memory, then I can’t help but be puzzled and hurt, if not angry and outraged. Calling me a “Saddam-loving leftist” just because I don’t like G. W. Bush’s policies is not only a non-sequitur and thus a lousy argument, it’s an ad hominem attack, which is inappropriate in any debate, and frankly, beneath someone of your intelligence and discernment.

The point I was trying to make the other night is that this administration and its supporters, like some previous Republican administrations, has equated criticism of the president and his policies with being “un-American,” and has called any and all kinds of dissent “disrespectful” and “unpatriotic.” This goes back to the 1992 debate when Bush Sr. questioned Clinton’s patriotism because he had visited Moscow as a student. It continued during the last election, and after 9-11, when Ari Fleischer said in response to Bill Maher, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." The article where I found the quote also discusses numerous other instances of government- and self-censorship of opinions that were critical of Bush Administration policies, and documents the growing atmosphere of suppressing dissent. The message board posts I was referring to reflected Fleischer’s influence.

And still it continues. Just yesterday on NPR, there was a piece on a Senate debate over implementing the 9-11 Commission’s policies, and they were talking about the Duelfer report. Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska) insisted when Sen. Durbin (D-Illinois) criticized Bush’s reasons for invading Iraq, citing the report’s finding no WMDs, that this criticism was “disrespectful of the president.” Durbin countered that he respected the office, but that as an American, he had a First-Amendment right to criticize the president, and such criticism is not disrespectful. You may listen to this exchange here.

I had to interrupt you the other night because you kept making the outrageous assertion that I wanted to suppress the speech of those on the message boards, even though you knew damn well that it wasn’t true, and that it wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I can’t believe you really think I’m that much of a hypocrite. Of course, I think everyone is entitled to express their opinion, no matter how much I might disagree with it. But there’s this weird double standard, and what pisses me off is the position of so many people who describe themselves as Bush supporters, or conservatives, or “those on the right,” or whatever title they choose. They are saying, “We can express our opinion because it jibes with the current administration’s party line, but all of you who don’t agree with the current administration should shut up because you’re being: (choose one) a) unpatriotic; b) disrespectful; c) un-American; d) supportive of the terrorists; e) a mixed-message sender.” My saying “The president is an idiot” is not un-American; however, my saying “You can’t say the president is an idiot because it’s un-American” goes against the concept of free speech, and is therefore un-American. I don’t know a single liberal/leftist/Democrat who wishes to restrict free speech, but I know plenty of conservatives/rightists/Republicans who do. And I don’t get it at all.

I think the government should be there to protect people from harm, should provide a legal framework for living and working in our society, should be an advocate for those who need one, and should provide temporary or permanent help with food, shelter, and health care to those who cannot help themselves, and who ask for this help on their own behalf or on behalf of a friend or family member. I do not think that the American government has any business dictating the religious, reproductive, or sexual practices of its citizens, and would hate to live in an America where this was accepted. You seem to advocate a “nosy parker” sort of government, and it’s one I could never support. There’s a big difference between thinking that abortion is wrong and vowing not to have one yourself, and believing that a law should be passed so that everyone will be forced to live according to your beliefs. What if there were a law saying that all unmarried girls under 18 had to abort any child they conceived? I would oppose that as equally wrong and restrictive. Haven’t you ever read Dostoyevsky's “The Grand Inquisitor?” People need to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions, even if they turn out to be mistakes. I think that the French have gone too far in restricting people from wearing headscarves, crosses, and other religious symbols, because while I would never want to wear a headscarf and find the practice rather sexist, it does me no harm, and it’s none of my business. France insists that it’s a “secular society,” but in contrast, the U.S. is a society that traditionally has taken a more laissez-faire attitude, and has embraced all the many religions and peoples it comprises. May it ever be thus.

I am beginning to think that personality is a huge factor in determining political allegiances, because certain personality traits seem to run parallel to party lines. Maybe our political leanings are more deeply rooted than we know. But as a former underdog, I find myself consistently rooting for the underdog, and I can’t help but align myself with others who share my inclinations.

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