© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
I have always found the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do,” interesting. I have often tried to remember whether I actually really heard anyone, who I respected, utter it. I’m pretty sure that I never heard it from my parents, although I may have seen the concept in action. I’m fairly convinced that it is something that we’ve all heard in various television shows or movies, but not in real life.
I had a conversation with my good friend Gail in Wisconsin today about the tone of the current political campaigns. It occurred to me that depending on the particular side of the aisle on which you sit, you might find certain conduct, on the part of the party with which you disagree, as “objectionable.” But I asked myself, are there some universal principles, which kids of parents, across the entire philosophical and political spectrum, should be able to take away from this period in our history, as examples of appropriate and acceptable conduct. I further asked myself whether the principles were inspirational in nature. Finally, I asked whether these principles advanced our societal interests and encouraged civic participation.
Before trying to identify some of these principles, I was reminded of the fact that each generation seems to think that the following generation is going to hell in a hand basket. I also thought about the fact that with technological advances, there are always good and bad ramifications associated therewith. With respect to the printed word, few would argue against the proposition that the invention of the printing press, and the resultant dissemination of information and knowledge through books, was overwhelmingly a positive thing. At the same time, we also recognize that some of that information may not be appropriate for children, and may actually have a deleterious effect. It is the same with computers and access to the internet.
So in thinking about the current political discourse, I tried to think of similarities and differences for purposes of analysis. In the case of books, someone or some authority has historically controlled the availability of books. There have been bans, or burnings, of various sorts over the course of history. We have restricted the ability of various citizens to gain access to certain books and information. The same might be said about some content on our media vehicles and the internet. Parents have technological devices permitting them to deny their kids access to certain channels and content. Additionally, parents can track the surfing habits of their kids.
I also recalled that many historians have provided evidence to support their contention that political mudslinging has been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, and has always been hardball in nature. However, in the case of the Lincoln – Douglas debates, we did not have the incredible technologically sophisticated media vehicles that we have today. The communication of the vituperative nature of the discourse was not as widely distributed, and with far less speed. In the case of our current presidential political campaigns, much of what is broadcast appears on the regular, non-cable channels, available to all, including those with rabbit ears, or even those without. Additionally, many outlets can be viewed, or heard in the case of radio, twenty-four hours per day. In fact, some might consider viewing or listening by our youth to be a good thing in that it helps them appreciate and fulfill their civic responsibilities.
Well, I’m glad that you’re convinced. I’m not as comfortable with that notion. Let’s look at some of the lessons to be learned from the practices that we see today:
(a) Individuals in the public arena who have managed to acquire masters’ degrees, raise families, be elected to national office, and make efforts to have an impact on American society have “done nothing in life worthwhile.” I would imagine that the argument could be advanced that they have not done anything worthy of being elected president. However, if that is the case, why not state that clearly.
(b) Anything done in the world of politics is acceptable and justified, including negative campaigning, because “politics is a tough business, and participants should realize that,” and because “negative campaigning is effective.”
(c) It is acceptable during the course of political discussions to refer to others whose views you do not accept as “liars, vermin, unpatriotic, commies, pinkos,” and various and sundry other descriptors which need not be repeated here.
(d) Someone willing to sit down with our adversaries or enemies to discuss possible resolution of our differences is “selling out,” and will “surrender our values,” and consequently discussion should not be had until your opponent bends to your rules.
(e) Americans expect, and respect, those who fight back, even if the level of the respondent attack is of the same quality and kind as the precipitating attack, no matter how negative. We don’t respect those who take the high ground, because it will not help you achieve your goals.
(f) Should you seek a position of high visibility or public office, you should ensure that you agree with, and accept, all statements made by those close to you or your campaign, during public events, and in the event that you do not, you should immediately denounce or fire them, and consider forfeiting your membership in the groups or organizations with which they are associated.
(g) If you are a member of any party or group, it is unacceptable to espouse views that differ from the “group speak,” or the party’s or group’s platform or principles.
Of course, I’m being ridiculous here even trying to formulate positive principles for our kids to take away from these campaigns and their attendant activity. None of the “principles” outlined above is really an acceptable principle, to be utilized in our examination or evaluation of our political candidates, or anyone in a high position for that matter. But that’s exactly the problem. I can not, with a straight face and with a clear conscience, identify any principle worth holding that is to be gleaned from this experience. And that’s sad… If the parents have tuned out, and find the discourse nasty and distasteful, imagine what the kids are thinking. If they are paying attention at all… Not to mention those worthy and dedicated (but imperfect) individuals who might consider entering public life…
© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Post No. 3: Some Lessons to be Learned by Kids in the Current Political Environment - Or Should They Be?
Opportunity to Serve as "Guest Author"
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