Friday, November 8, 2013

Stay in the fray

   This week’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, like it or not, signals the beginning of a new election cycle. It seems as though elections are frequent, and yet very little seems to get accomplished. And for reasons probably related to what seems like perpetual campaigning, many Americans have lost the cultural optimism that has always informed the belief that our difficulties can be solved once an election is decided.
    For many, the magnitude of problems seems to cause them to be angry, and more than angry, fearful.
    It’s not rare to hear complaints tinged with real bitterness about the overall lack of civility in our current political discourse, when the voices of Fox News or MSNBC or CNN can seem more concerned with destroying an enemy rather than seeking to explore solutions that benefit the entire nation and our citizens.
    This bitterness might be mitigated by an appreciation for the fact that Thomas Paine was correct when he wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
    Before deciding that the present discourse is historically unique and particularly troubled, remember that Alexander Hamilton was killed in a politically inspired duel. Abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner was beaten with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate, by Southern Congressman Preston Brooks.  
    Campaigns have always taken on their own particularly negative tone, one that often turns to the personal.
    Cartoonists portrayed the heavily browed Abraham Lincoln as a devil. Opponents called him a charlatan, pointing to his habit of changing his positions as circumstances or the weight of history demanded. John Wilkes Booth’s murderous rage was fueled by publically expressed opinions that Lincoln would use imperial power to rule the defeated South.
    Sen. Joe McCarthy, who based the accusations he made in full view of early television cameras on the mysterious pieces of information in his briefcase, called war heroes President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. George Marshall communists.
    President John F. Kennedy suggested that it is easier to curse the darkness than to work to increase the light. Now we are caught having to make the decision as to what role we wish to play, cynical non-participant or reasoning voter.
    If we are unwilling to allow the nasty, accusatory voices to be the only ones heard, it is time to man and woman up and stay active in the fray. Refusing to be involved in what might be uncomfortable just lets the bad guys win.

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