We are Americans first. This simple principle is at the core of the strength and stability of our government. We are Americans first and Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or Wicans, or Asians, or Baptists second. We argue passionately for our causes, because we want what we think is best for our country. We argue civilly amongst ourselves because we know our opponents also want what’s best for our country. That’s why we can accept the results of our elections peacefully without bloody riots or disruptive protests and strikes. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work.
Running for national public office is not easy. It takes long hard hours away from home and loved ones. It means the constant glare of media attention, debates in which every word can be misconstrued, and, often attacks on ones character or ambitions. And the winners get to be away from home for long stretches of time doing often thankless tasks. These are great sacrifices that our representatives make because they care deeply about our country, and about us. Some become seduced and corrupted by the trappings of power, but most are honest hard working people who believe that their work will make this a better country. They are not evil people out to take away our liberties, confiscate all our property, or sell us into slavery.
We sometimes lose sight of that fact. Negative campaigns, attacking an opponent’s character or lifestyle or beliefs rather than promoting one’s own ideas, has been an effective campaign tactic since the earliest days of the republic. If you can convince the voters that your opponent is the devil incarnate they won’t ask about that tattoo on your own forehead. Usually, after the election, we forget all that, shake hands, and get on with governing. It is a sad fact of politics that, at least since FDR, there are always a few who believe any current occupant of the White House is the antichrist.
Demonizing the opposition can have disastrous consequences. The Nixon White House was mired in an escalating and unpopular war. The people running Nixon’s re-election campaign actually believed that if the Democrats won the election they would surrender to the communists, confiscate our property, and sell us all into slavery. Thus they felt that they were justified it trampling our freedoms by bugging the Democrats’ phones (along with other illegal disruptive tactics and “dirty tricks”). Ultimately Nixon was forced to resign over his role in obstructing the investigation into these very un-American activities. Nixon achieved many great things, but his presidency was destroyed by zealots battling imaginary devils.
Following the 2000 elections many Democrats blamed their loss on an evil Republican conspiracy led by the “Bush crime family” that stole our rights and sold us into slavery by designing ballots to confuse Democrats, preventing black people from voting, rigging vote counting machines, and corrupting the courts. By failing to focus on their own errors and miscalculations, and by not making a clear case for their policies and plans, the Democrats lost again in 2004.
In 2008 many people passionately believed that Obama was an evil person out to take away our liberties, confiscate all our property, and sell us into slavery. Although these claims were soundly rejected by the American people, a vocal minority still cling to those paranoid beliefs. They stated publicly, without a hint of shame, that they hoped Obama’s plans to improve the economy failed. They chose to not cooperate at all with governing America so that Obama’s presidency would fail. Throwing America under the bus like this is outrageous behavior from people who claimed to represent “real” Americans during the campaign.
Despite the concerted efforts of the Obamaphobes to stifle debate, intimidate supporters, and confuse the public, Democrats passed sweeping health insurance reform. This bill was debated for a year. It was passed with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, as required by law and Senate rules. It was then passed by a majority in the House and in accordance with all House rules. It was done so by a Democratic majority elected sixteen months ago along with a Democratic President who campaigned daily on health care reform, and who received the most votes in the history of American elections and won by the widest margin in decades.
The opposition is irate because their plans to destroy Obama’s presidency failed. They said this plan takes away our liberties, confiscates our property, and sells us into slavery. They said this bill was “rammed down our throats”. They lied that their ideas were not sought or included. They equated passing this bill with “Armageddon.” (I hadn’t realized that everyone gets health insurance at Armageddon. Maybe Armageddon isn’t that bad. I’m sure the churches will be glad to hear the good news.) The Obamaphobes reacted with language filled with violent metaphors (but they didn’t mean actual violence, wink, wink). One crank made a direct call for violence. Sadly, a wave of violence ensued. Real Americans do not act this way, they condemn such language and acts unconditionally, and they do not blame the victims, or mention them in any way, while doing so.