Talking about 'Talking with the Enemy'
In response to the Monitor's recent series, readers weigh in on America's polarized climate - pinpointing its challenges, suggesting solutions, and offering hope.
This "Talking to the Enemy" series is a great service to the public because so many of us, including myself, are polarized to an unhealthy degree. These articles are giving me a chance to sit back and say to myself, "Now wait a minute, what's going on here?"
I recently visited some political message boards on AOL, posting thoughtful responses and asking reasonable questions of those who were conversing online. What troubled me was that when I appealed to someone who was using illogical or blatant lies and name-calling, they generally ignored me or called me a profane name. Have Americans forgotten how to think, wrestle with complex issues, and honestly weigh facts?
The solution to polarization lies in education and the media. We immerse our children in media, but do we ever train them in the critical thinking skills that will help them to make responsible decisions as adults? Can we use the media to promote thinking instead of the consumption of predigested opinions?
Mary Ann Stroven
I am not sure of the premise that we are a more divided nation than ever before. For example, I support John Kerry, but I do not dismiss the president as stupid or evil, and I am confident that most Americans are equally respectful of those with opposing viewpoints. Part of the problem is the 24-hour news cycle that requires policymakers to immediately form an opinion on a breaking-news story or event. There is no time for deliberation, let alone reasoned dialogue across the political spectrum. When we have time to digest events and explore compromises, our democracy works better.
I disagree with the premise of Gary Alan Fine's Oct. 18 piece that the contempt this year's anti-Bush voters feel stems solely from a decades-old disdain for the holder of the presidency, whoever that may be.
That conclusion ignores the depth of concern many Democrats, independents, and even some Republicans have about the decisions the president has made about Iraq, homeland security, taxes, jobs, and the basic American freedoms whittled away by the Patriot Act. The decisions this president has made, his refusal to admit mistakes, and his willingness to mislead the American public are at the core of Bush-contempt.
Oak Park, Ill.
I love the phrase in the opening article "dialogue rather than advocacy." I vote Democratic, but I get so frustrated by the demonization of Republicans that I hear from Democrats. I'm not a fan of Bush, but surely there must be something - anything - that he has done right or at least did for good reasons. Is it possible for a person to be 100 percent wrong and 100 percent evil, 100 percent of the time?
Carla Seaquist's Oct. 20 piece makes the key point that ideas are at the heart of political discussion, and ideas are by nature debatable. The problem is that Bush models the opposite behavior. When posed the question suggested by Seaquist's piece, "Why do you think that?" he answers that he feels it in his gut or knows it by instinct - or even that God has told him what to do, thus stopping discussion or diverting it to faith in him or in God.
Fish Creek, Wis.
Bridging the "red-blue divide" in our country is essential, but there are reasons to be angry: The Bush administration started a war and sent our children off to kill and be killed in a foreign land for no good reason, dismantled environmental protections, drove the country further into debt, and cut back on civil liberties.
Intense anger can be divisive, but I think collective blindness is more destructive. The solution, if there is one, will be found in a thoroughgoing and substantive discussion among citizens about our shared reality and how we would like it to be shaped.
If democracy is threatened in any tangible way, it will not be because of public outcry and the demonstration of outrage. It will be the direct result of unsubstantiated, unjust, and irrational human behavior. There is a place for righteous anger. History is filled with the reversal of injustice spurred on by outrage.
The Bronx, N.Y.
After 9/11, I read much about Americans vowing to be more civil and thoughtful to each other. That vow faded quickly as pundits and viewers returned to "smash-mouth" talk. We talk about respect for life a great deal, so why not talk about respect for each other? Perhaps we need a high school course on learning civil conversation skills. Civil conversation is an art necessary to a working democracy. Accordingly, broadcasters should refrain from the shouting-match version of news "analysis."
William T. Donahue
Domestically, the geometric increase in our population from the times of our forefathers, coupled with greater industrial demands on natural resources, makes it essential that our nation's policies be indeed the best ones for us today and for our children tomorrow. Internationally, the impact of our economic and military might on the lives of people around the world exceeds that of our forefathers by several orders of magnitude. And with shorter lead times between cause and effect, our margin for error is much less today than it was for our forefathers.
Hence today, more than ever before, it is imperative that substantive discourse must displace bombastic rhetoric so that wise decisions can be made. Shouldn't some progress toward more civil, substantive campaigns, commensurate with advances in other aspects of our society, take place over the years?
While I am a bit skeptical about the possibility of healing the bitter partisan divide in America, I desire it. I am a physician, so by nature and by training I don't give up on difficult cases. America is suffering from a debilitating self-inflicted wound of extremism. I have become a little optimistic that other readers might also have space in their hearts, minds, and souls to have a conversation and not just another incessant debate about our vital role in healing our nation, and our role as the leader of the free world.
Beyond the insight and even-handedness of the series, "Talking With The Enemy," was a spirit of unity that I hope will reverberate beyond Nov. 2.
To say that this is a country divided is a gross understatement. I think my George Bush sign gets more beatings than an overly zealous fan parading his Boston Red Sox jersey in the Bronx.
I have many good-natured debates with my liberal friends because the discussions are always grounded on a principle of uncertainty - recognizing that whatever our view, however informed and impassioned we may be, we still may be wrong. A thinking person will agree that there are two credible sides to the argument. And we can't escape the logic of those who challenge us - unless, of course, we're running from it.
I understand perfectly well that history may prove me wrong in my opinion of the war, but scowls, political rhetoric, and smashing my Bush signs will not. I believe that only when we accept the possibility that our opinion may be wrong can we respect those who may see life in different shades of gray.
Peter S. McConnell
Do you have a tale to tell about a breakthrough in reducing a politically polarized situation? Tell us about it in an e-mail to Letters or in a letter to Readers' Write, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA, 02115 USA.
My obvious support for John Kerry is shown in this yard sign and an accompanying four-page written elaboration that I have made available to my neighbors in the box to my left. Since a few of my favorite friends support what George Bush represents, my love and respect for them impelled me to include at least a few of his qualities that I can truly understand these friends being attracted to. The project has opened up some wonderful dialogue with people longing for a more heartfelt, respectful, and nonglamorous tone to our presidential campaigns. One person even convinced me to change a pro-Kerry point to No. 10 in my "issues Kerry and Bush have yet to address" column.
Unfortunately, in our current climate, someone who doesn't like my approach to free speech has pulled down my sign three times. We have a way to go in living up to the wholesome challenge presented by the Monitor's recent series "Talking With the Enemy." My gratitude goes to this newspaper for its persistence in the effort.