On Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthcare Reform Bill into law. A lot has happened since. Republicans have been very negative about it and have said that they plan to get the bill repealed and replaced. Some have suggested it might be unconstitutional. A large group of ultra-conservatives calling themselves the Tea Party Movement have protested against Healthcare Reform, calling it socialism. And, most worryingly, there has been an extremist fringe who have engaged in violent acts, threats of violence, vandalism and even gunfire.
Many people have been surprised at how quickly this behavior has spread. On my Facebook page, myself and some of my friends were talking about it and why it might have happened. It certainly appears to be true that the popular media has been whipping these people up into a frenzy. A recent video clip from the Rachel Maddow Show reports how the Republican Party themselves seem to have encouraged dissent, and how they would not stand with the Democrats to denounce even the most extreme acts of this nature.
I think part of the problem is that many of us are reluctant to talk about politics face-to-face with others. I can understand people not wanting to offend their friends, but I think we should try to overcome this hesitation. I think it is important to remember that you can nearly always find common-ground with the people you are talking with. If, for example, you're in a bar talking with someone whose political beliefs are the opposite of yours, the chances are that at least you like the same bar - that's common-ground! Of course, we should avoid personal attacks. One friend of mine, Asha Hawkesworth, said, "I think it's helpful to see where others are coming from. I know many, many conservative people, and I do understand why they feel the way they do. I don't always agree, though sometimes I do, but whether I do or not, I can see why they feel the way they do. This allows me to have compassion and respect for their point of view, which is also crucial for any reasoned discourse." Another friend, Susan Jones, says, "I'm working on the art of asking questions that prompt the other person to have to do more than recite propaganda."
Another reason why we seem to be losing the ability to engage in lively debate about politics is the decline in what has been referred to as the Third Place (the first place being home, the second, work). I'm referring to bars, coffee-shops and places of that nature. Some may think that Social Media sites such as Facebook or Twitter can replace the "Third Place." While one can always find a group of people on-line who feel the same way as you (which can often be an advantage), its rarefied atmosphere can also become a breeding-ground for lunacy. If you were sitting in a bar with an average group of people, you would probably very quickly get a strong feeling whether your thoughts were reasonable or not.
The danger of us not talking to each other about politics is that it opens us up to manipulation by the media and politicians. Many people seem to be content with getting their politics spoon-fed to them. If we don't make the effort to be informed and to discuss these matters with others, we risk being walked over by the politicians.
I do, of course welcome lively debate here, via the comments section.