This past week-end, at the birthday party for some very dear friends' outlandishly adorable son, I saw a mutual acquaintance, and extended greetings. Dead air in return. At first, I dismissed it as my simply not having broken through the ambient mayhem of a bouncy-gym filled with shrieking little humans and their multitasking parents. Several more iterations of attempted greetings, however, yielded the same lack of acknowledgment. Never having known her especially well myself (Madame Noocyte was quite a bit better acquainted with her), I didn't give it much more thought. It was only today that I was informed by Ma'me 'Cyte, who had spoken with our hostess, that the young lady in question had spied the McCain bumper sticker on my car....
Upon hearing this, I was irritated for approximately four minutes. Then I just got sad. Now, it's not that the absence of this young woman's esteem stands to leave a particularly large void in my life --she always seemed a pleasant enough sort, but in the end I saw her a few times a year and shared some light-hearted chit-chat at most. What got me grieving was this very direct --if modest, and thankfully unique-- experience of the human costs of letting the shrill partisan smear machine replace reasoned political discourse in this country.
Somewhere along the line, it became the norm to amp up the volume in our political conversation, to the point where passion and conviction have simply dissolved into an undecipherable blast of acrimonious static. Clarity of analysis and critical thinking have been immolated on the altar of partisanship, leaving raw sputtering nerve endings more suited to hate than debate. It's become a take-no-prisoners, zero-sum game, in which any 'inconvenient truth' must be crushed, lest it interfere with one's chosen narrative. To even concede that one's opponent's world-view has a scintilla of merit is to threaten one's purchase on 'Truth' and to awaken a kind of existential dread which brooks no compromise. So, people retreat into their respective echo chambers and glower at each other, launching talking points like mortar shells across a cratered no-man's land, littered with the corpses of basic human relationships.
I fear that this will only get worse, regardless of who wins tomorrow. If, as I earnestly hope, McCain squeaks to victory, the Left will resume its raging about "stolen" elections...only this time with an ugly racial overtone. If Obama crosses the finish line, then it may well be the Right's turn to go savage. Either way, damage will be done. For my part, however, I plan no mean-spirited victory dances if my side wins, nor any spasms of rage if it does not. Politics rise and fall with the tides, and we ride them out as best we can, knowing that this is America, where hope and change are far more than mere bumper stickers. As for my true and valued friends, I hope to have them in my life to argue with about many an election to come.
See also this eloquent little op-ed by "Instapundit," Glen Reynolds. Key quote:
I'm not an Obama fan, particularly, but a lot of people I like and respect are. To treat Obama as something evil or subhuman would not only be disrespectful toward Obama, but toward them. Instead, I hope that if Obama is elected, their assessment of his strengths will turn out to be right, and mine will turn out to be wrong. Likewise, those who don't like John McCain or Sarah Palin might reflect that by treating Palin and McCain as obviously evil and stupid, they're disrespecting tens of millions of their fellow Americans who feel otherwise. And treating a presidency held by a guy you don't like as presumptively illegitimate suggests that presidents rule not by election, but by divine right, so that whenever the "other guy" wins, he's automatically a usurper.
We don't have to agree on issues, or on leaders. But if we can't agree that a free and fair election can produce a legitimate president even when it's not the candidate we like, then we've got a very serious problem.