Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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The good fight hard to find these days in politics

by John Halverson

March 03, 2011

Chuck and I agreed to disagree.

Whether it was about Joe McCarthy or President Obama or welfare or warfare, we were rarely on the same side of the political spectrum. And after the debates were done, after we'd exhausted our arguments, we could still sit down, have a beer and talk about other things.

Somehow that's become difficult these days — and the protests in Madison this week are a living example. As I watch the story unfold I find it hard not to feel my blood pressure rise at the same time. The irony is that I see both sides, and both sides anger me with their stridency and their stretching of the facts.

Democracy is a wide spectrum and ought to be able to accommodate a wide variety of opinions without demonizing the opposition. But that's not the world we live in. And I admit I'm getting caught up in emotions I don't like feeling.

So what's to blame?

The danger of the Mob — I've been involved in protests before and feel they suck the reasonableness out of people. There's a cultish feel when you're on one side or the other, and you dare not express an opinion even slightly different than the ones shared by the person next to you. Crowds limit the conversation because facts get submerged by emotions.

The power of parties — What's happened to the independents? No one dares cross a party line anymore for fear they'll be ostracized. In this latest battle over state unions, I would have loved for one Democrat to stay in the state or one Republican to suggest that the process be slowed down-without either one of them giving up their convictions.

An unwillingness to look at the facts — When I was on the high school debate team we were required to argue both sides. I found that instructive because no one side has a monopoly on the facts. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a special page devoted to fact checking each Sunday. Last week, they blasted both Gov. Walker and liberal commentator Rachel Maddow for stretching the truth. We ought to be listening to the facts instead of just choosing sides. Talk shows these days have made that nearly impossible because we choose the voices we want to hear and ignore the others. And in this Internet age, it's too easy for bullies to anonymously spread lies and spew venom on the web. I support their right to express themselves; decry their inability to get out of the playpen.

The gotcha mentality — We all make mistakes and if we had a microphone in front of us as often as politicians do, we'd say things we regret or that aren't quite accurate. Instead of forgiving the overstatement and asking for clarification, we call the other side liars. That only throws gas on the fiery rhetoric and adds nothing to the conversation.

I miss the days when Chuck and I could argue, listen to the other side without conceding what we truly believed in, and then have a beer in peace afterward. But a friendly argument is hard to find these days. There's a wave of unreasonableness sweeping the country, and it's too easy to get swept up in it.

Candid conversation shouldn't be so easily trumped by confrontation.

Halverson is the general manager of the Regional News.