November 3, 2008

Intelligent People Could Disagree

I was born and raised in Washington, DC.

I didn't notice anything unusual about my childhood. The Smithsonian was where you went on a class field trip a couple times a year, and the Kennedy Center is where your high school graduation was. It never occurred to me that kids in other places didn't go to school with the sons and daughters of senators and congressmen (and women, though less so back then), or regularly share a church with the vice president.

Looking back now, what was notable was that the parents of my friends were patriotic Americans first, senators or congressmen or vice presidents second, and Democrats or Republicans third. The partisan distinctions were important, to be sure, but they really only mattered for a few months every two years.

I was a huge baseball fan as a child, and my team, the Washington Senators, moved to Texas in 1971. The following year (1972, an election year), the annual congressional charity baseball game took place at RFK stadium, before an exhibition game between the Mets and the Red Sox. I was just eleven years old at the time, and I was the guest of one of my neighbors, who happened to work on presidential campaigns. We arrived early, and spent time walking through the VIP dining room. Seated at every table were congressmen and senators from almost every state, and from both parties. I met a congressman from Michigan, and had my picture taken with him. Two years later, this congressman, Gerald Ford, became President of the United States. I met the Speaker of the House. I met George McGovern, the Democratic nominee for president. I dozens others.

In an election year, on this particular evening, these men got together to play baseball and watch baseball... They had cocktails and food. They respected each other... but they had day jobs, and their jobs were to debate and craft the direction of the country. They disagreed about how to achieve their goals, but ultimately, they knew that their jobs, first and foremost, were to debate... and that the first ground rule of these political debates were that intelligent people could disagree.

Here we are today, on the eve of an election, thirty-six years later. What has changed is that today, intelligent people can't disagree. The nature of the debate has become such that to disagree is to make you defective. Perhaps it makes you a racist. Perhaps it makes you a radical. Perhaps it makes you a terrorist. Perhaps it makes you a pagan. Perhaps it makes you intolerant. Perhaps it makes you stupid.

Most importantly, it makes you shut up.

I am tired of being made to feel like there is something wrong with me because I disagree with you.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to do something about it. You should, too.

I have decided, I will go and vote, and then I will love you.

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