As a result of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last week, there has been an outpouring of rhetoric and petitions along the lines that Americans need to turn away from appeals to hatred and violence. I certainly agree with the sentiment, but this movement in a large degree begs the question. The first question is why in recent years Americans have turned to more and more violent rhetoric and why the political climate has turned uglier and uglier. The second question is whether “debate” is the answer.
I don’t think so, at least not given the way debate is being approached today. It all reminds me of a woman I know, who divorced her husband when no one could understand why, since he was such a rational and logical fellow. Her answer, which almost no one accepted or understood, was that his logical and rational approach was the problem. Whenever she disagreed with him and tried to explain her views, he was so busy thinking up arguments to undermine her position that he never listened to what she was saying or what lay behind what she was saying. And that is the problem with political and social debate and problems today – on all sides of the political spectrum.
Everyone’s talking, and no one is listening. The Republicans are determined to repeal the health bill. Is anyone there listening to the more than forty million who don’t have and can’t get health care in a time when healthcare costs are spiraling out of control. The Democrats refuse to consider limitations on legal claims and windfalls for attorneys proposed by the Republicans, which certainly add to health care costs. The Democrats demand tax increases on the “wealthy,” but insist the wealthy include the upper middle class and small businesses that have always generated the majority of “new” jobs in the economy, while the Republicans want the uber-rich, those who make millions, to get the same tax cuts as everyone else, when the corporate fat cats are the ones who are making millions by cutting jobs. Citizens in border states face huge problems with illegal immigrants, and Congress has done nothing. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of young people brought to this country illegally as children who know no other homeland, and Congress isn’t listening to them, either, and yet deporting or allowing them no legal status punishes them not for what they did, but for the sins of their parents. The Democratic Party ignores the problems illegal immigration has created, and the Republican rhetoric ignores the suffering of too many innocents. The Republican rhetoric, if followed literally, would create an American version of the Berlin Wall, but not doing anything isn’t working, either, and not allowing a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who’ve lived here for years and who had no choice in the matter, isn’t exactly in keeping with the American tradition. The list of polarized issues goes on and on… and everyone’s talking, and no one is listening… and the anger continues to build.
What we need is more listening… and some compromise… so that Americans can get a sense that something is being done. Try splitting the difference. Let each side get something, and I don’t mean the past political compromise of spending more money and splitting the spoils. And it might not hurt to ask another question when facing yet another “simple” solution: How will this benefit or affect everyone?
Debate isn’t an answer. We’ve had years of it. Without more listening, more debate will only create more hate.