Dear America, You’re starting to scare me a little.

My good friend Stephen Ludwig posted a link to a New York Times article today titled “Hey, Political Zealots, Listen Carefully to a Conversation From 1963.” The article recounts a discussion between JFK, the Republican Senate Minority Leader, and the Democrat Senate Majority Leader where the two senators — primarily the republican — carefully counsel the president on how to get congress to ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and mollify and unite the membership and leadership of both parties. The article highlights how politics of old, which with a few glaring exceptions was generally about the good of the country, has given way to the hardline politics of now, which can be summed up by this one quote from the article, “… compromise would be seen as treason. For the moment, party power — even to do nothing — is more important than the national interest.”

That last line got me thinking. This is not a time when doing nothing is an option. I will admit I have never really understood partisan politics because they are based on the simple assumption that “I am right and you are stupid,” without taking the time to really understand the other person’s point of view. It seems we all took debate in school (or at least the kindergarten version practiced by radio and TV talk shows where you hurl insults at your opponent and run away) when we probably would have been better served with a class on understanding and negotiation.

If ever there has been a time to take responsibility for your future and educate yourselves on the issues, this is it. The Tea Party is blaming Obama for things that Bush did (hint: if Obama wasn’t in office when the legislation was signed, he didn’t do it); Congress is too busy playing extreme politics to get anything done besides successfully blaming the other party and profiteering; Karl Rove directed political attack ads (one blaming a Democrat senator for deficit spending when he was voting on increased spending for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars that Rove started) are doing their best to generate fear for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of the few that control Washington; the religious right is busy converting America into a theocracy and the entire government, right down to Barney Fife, is spending insane amounts of money on failed and misguided programs to erode our rights and freedoms under the veil of “safety.” Of course companies aren’t going to do anything about it because it all goes to increase their profits.

But we, as a society, have become too lazy to think for ourselves. Terrestrial and satellite radio, FOX, CNN, MSNBC have a cadre of people telling us what to think around the clock. The Internet has brought information to our fingertips, but instead of using it to learn about the issues we use it to learn what our favorite pundits and pastors are telling us to think and then turn around and spread their crap to our e-mail lists and anywhere else we can. When one is exposed as a fraud, all their followers exclaim “we didn’t know.” Sorry, not an excuse. You chose not to know. You chose not to think.

Now before you label me as a hater, let me fully disclose two things. First, I think the Tea Party is somewhere south of stupid. All they do is point fingers, rally behind half truths or complete falsehoods, and have a rather misguided view of our country and how we got here. Secondly, I kind of like them — in a repulsed, horrified way — but I kind of like them. Ignoring for a moment that Sarah Palin is their god (I shudder at that thought), it is a group of people standing up and crying foul. I would like them a lot more if they were less extreme, but whenever someone stands up and cries foul, it brings issues to the surface that someone else was hoping to keep buried. The problem with the Tea Party is they are not asking questions, they are shouting answers. “Stop spending NOW!” is very different from asking “how did we get here, what can we do about it and where are we going?”.

Why do I point to them and single them out? Precisely because they are shouting answers. Not just answers, but overly simplistic answers to complex questions that most of them couldn’t even fathom. It is always easier to regurgitate the answers you were given then to think through the questions in all their myriad complexities yourself. Thinking, true informed independent thought, leads to discussion and compromise. What we have instead is dumb, ill-informed gesturing and finger pointing to support some extreme political belief. Why? Because it is easy and it makes it easy to be right.

“We didn’t know”, said the congregation, signing a hymn in their church of Whites
“Press was full of lies about us, preacher told us we were right.”
“The outside agitators came, they burned some churches and put the blame
“On decent southern people’s names to set our Colored people aflame”
“And maybe some of our boys got hot and a couple of Negroes and Reds got shot”
“They should have stayed where they belonged!”
“The preacher would have told us if we’d done wrong.”

“We didn’t know”, said the puzzled voter, watching the President on TV.
“I guess we’ve got to drop those bombs if we’re going to keep South Asia free.”
“The President’s such a peaceful man, I guess he’s got some kind of plan.”
“They say we’re torturing prisoners of war, but I don’t believe that stuff no more”
“Torturing prisoners is a Communist game, and you can bet they’re doing the same!”
“I wish this war was over and through, but what do you expect me to do?

We didn’t know at all, we didn’t see a thing.
You can’t hold us to blame, what could we do?
It was a terrible shame, but we can’t bear the blame.
Oh, No, not us! We didn’t know.

– Tom Paxton

… to be continued

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