Sunday, October 12, 2008
Weekend Update (Part Three): Attempts at Civility, Gone Awry
Abandoning my musical progression, which, after the point at which I stopped yesterday is hardly as interesting as the formative years, I turn my focus to a short column in today's paper. It appears as if the two candidates for president have turned more strongly toward attempts at being honorable opponents (not that they had gotten as deeply into the mud-slinging as previous years' candidates). Obama continues to remind voters of McCain's military service and his harrowing experiences as a POW in Vietnam, which he should. Say what you want about McCain, he sacrificed quite a bit in those years, and, according to the stories told of his time as an unwilling guest of the North Vietnamese, acted impeccably as an officer and a human being. Obama is correct in reminding all that the campaign is, and always should be, about issues, substance, and ideas.
McCain tried to take the high road in Davenport, Iowa, recently, also. After reading recent reports of crowds at his rallies calling Obama a "traitor" and threatening him and his former associates with bodily harm, I was appalled. McCain, who has, as far as I know, never actively engaged in calling Obama names, or making spurious remarks about his religion, race, or personality, has never really censured his supporters for their remarks or outburst, seemed to take offense at a comment made at his Hawkeye State rally yesterday.
When a woman ignorantly referred to Obama as "an Arab" (how can people still believe this?), McCain took the microphone from the woman and "contradicted" her, calling Obama a "fine, family man, citizen." On one hand, one might say, "Well done, John. Fight your own supporters' disinformation." On the other hand(the hand I am viewing this from (does a hand view? well, no, but you get my drift), one must say, "Hold on there, McCain. Did you just say, in effect, that the OPPOSITE of an Arab is a fine, family man?" Are the two mutually exclusive? Does the world contain a dichotomy: fine, family men on one side and Arabs on the other (thereby making Arabs incapable of being fine, family men)?
This is the kind of black and white thinking, the kind of unspoken attitude of people that leads us down a path of hatred, ignorance, and violence that we, as a nation, seem to be at odds with all of the time. Our history is a sine wave of ignorance and enlightenment, with different groups being the focus of our attention in different eras. From Native Americans to African Americans, from Irish and Italian immigrants to Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants to Mexican immigrants, from Germans to Arabs, our mentality seems always to swing back to dark attitudes of "the other," no matter how seemingly enlightened we become of groups we once despised.
Sadly, this leads me to the conclusion that we never really do make any social progress as a nation. Certainly, groups make strides, slowly gaining legal and social acceptance, but, in the hearts of the people, there lies this clear need to find an enemy, a scapegoat, a villain that can be hated, hunted, and hoisted. And, even more sadly perhaps, even our attempts to appear unbiased sometimes reveal this deep-seated attitude.