This is the first of a two-part essay. This one points out what went wrong Saturday afternoon in Anchorage. I recognize some people put in considerable effort and good intentions into doing something they thought constructive; therefore, I want my criticism to be not just destructive, but also constructive. So the second essay will focus on suggestions for improvement.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s rally to restore sanity energized me. Stewart’s speech Saturday in Washington, D.C. inspired me to attend the Anchorage rally. I wanted to do something positive to contribute to intelligent discussion of issues without resorting to the us-versus-them pattern that contaminates, if not prevents, meaningful dialogue.
So I took along two props: in one hand, the American flag and in the other hand, a Qur’an. I posed with both for a couple of photographs and I asked fellow rally participants to help me NOT to burn either. I hoped to communicate with those props my respect for both patriots and Muslims. I was encouraged by a sign that went something like this: “I’m pretty sure Republicans love my country as much as I do.”
I value respecting people who disagree with me. And I try to return civility with civility.
But there were few such makeshift signs advocating civility. Nearly all the signs supported Scott McAdams. A man circulated through the crowd handing out pieces of McAdams propaganda. McAdams himself showed up to work the crowd of some 60 people or so.
The rally consisted only of about eight to ten short speeches. Most of them consisted of vague platitudes. One dynamic speaker assured us that we’re all in this together but did not tell us how that condition should affect our attitudes and especially our behaviors.
Things got progressively (no pun intended here) more politically partisan. One speaker read a short cleverly-written poem disparaging Joe and Lisa and paying homage to Scott.
We also heard from noted radio talk show host Shannyn Moore. Like Sarah, who has created quite a niche as a national spokeswoman for the so-called “religious right,” Shannyn has created quite a niche as perhaps the country’s leading Sarah-basher. Sarah has gained her reputation and influence by a steadfast devotion to ducking complicated issues in favor of ad hominem tactics against her political opponents. And Shannyn has gained quite a following by a steadfast devotion of ad hominem(or, if you wish, mulierem) criticism of Sarah. One time, after a seemingly endless barrage of Sarah-bashing, I asked Shannyn to focus on issues instead, but Shannyn tried to justify her demonizing Sarah by pointing out Sarah demonizes her political opponents continually. The old fight-fire-with-fire technique, a variation of the eye-for-an-eye approach. I doubt that Shannyn sees that Mohandas Ghandi’s observation that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind applies to her. I, for one, am convinced that demonizing those who disagree with us blinds to the complexity of the issues we should be dealing with. More on that next time.
Aside from a couple of signs and a few platitudes, the rally for sanity turned out to be more of a rally for Democrats. I don’t blame the organizers for the McAdams signs and the appearances by McAdams and Mark Begich. I realize it’s easy to complain about efforts of well-intentioned volunteers. And I realize failed efforts are a way of life. That’s why we can use what happened Saturday as a learning experience. One thing the rally taught me is the importance of careful planning and clarity of purpose.
Without that, a rally against politics as usual can easily devolve into politics as usual. I don’t wish to exaggerate. No one accused Joe of cannibalism. No one called Lisa a lesbian. And no one accused Sarah of masterminding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I do not wish to imply Saturday’s rally was a mirror image of the stuff seen on the Fox Cable Channel. But I do think it’s fair to say that pure political partisanship tends to encourage and to evolve into the insanity that Stewart and Colbert rallied against.
People certainly have the right to stage partisan political rallies. But I don't think it's a good idea to dress up partisanship as civility, even civil partisanship.
In her short speech, Shannyn cited the oft-cited definition of insanity as repeating the same actions with the hope of an entirely different outcome. I doubt she appreciated the irony.