Earlier tonight- a day I spent putting time into my club-soccer book- I stumbled upon the Rachel Maddow Show. Tonight, she was spending the hour talking with Jon Stewart, who has been sick with what he calls "the bubons", which is a pretty good way to describe a bug that's recently been making the rounds more or less everywhere you look including my whole family (but not me personally, fingers crossed).
As it happens, that hour was one of the most intelligent and refreshing hours of television I have seen in quite some time. Here you have two very smart, rational individuals having a calm discussion about, mostly, the media's role in politics (including Rachel and Jon's own roles), and an amazing thing happened when they disagreed:
Neither one raised their voice in anger.
They found common ground. They ceded ground. They agreed to disagree. They did all this calmly, talking like normal human beings who just happened to be very very smart (and one of whom was very very sick). And what's more, they were kind of working without a net. Rachel had a small bit of notes, but by her admission, the discussion got away pretty early on from the intended set of questions because neither one was getting bored with the topic they were finding themselves discussing (which I have no problem with whatsoever; there is no sense cutting off a good debate with 'we'll have to leave it there'), and Jon had no notes at all. It's just two people in chairs shooting the breeze. It led to a smattering of factual errors, but really, you try having a discussion of that length sometime with that few notes and not screwing anything up. You probably fail at it all the time. So do I. I spend time away from the Internet. My memory's not perfect. (We'll see how they handle the errors they did make. They have time now to go over what they biffed; we'll see if corrections are forthcoming.)
The raw feed can be found here; it goes nearly 50 minutes, so set some time aside.
The problem is that the national debate in this country has become so utterly poisoned that I go around looking at reactions to the discussion on Facebook and Daily Kos and Penny Arcade- all places that saw the debate- and a not-insignificant number of people failed to pick up on the tone at all. They started to look for a "winner" (usually Maddow, giving no slack to Jon being sick, which, really, you try being at the peak of your cognitive skills when you're throwing up all day long), in the process completely missing the point of what was going on. They think Jon had a fall from grace, that he should stick to jokes. One said if she had seen this before the Rally to Restore Sanity, she'd have skipped it.
Why do we have to declare a winner and a loser? This is not what this discussion was. Jon and Rachel even expressed mutual respect for each other. Jon didn't even have to appear on the show. Sick, remember? He could have cancelled. Yet he showed enough respect for Rachel that he sucked it up and fought the bug (and at the close of proceedings, called Maddow his "ginger root".)
This is the core of the underlying political problem plaguing us. Too many of us have lost the ability to talk to one another. Worse, too many of us seem to look at someone with which we disagree on some things, look at another person with which we disagree on all things, and reserve our greatest contempt for the former, acting as if they're betraying us. If you don't agree with me on everything, you're the enemy and must be destroyed along with all the others.
That needs to stop. This isn't a football game, where it's one team fighting another team. This is the Royal Rumble: a whole bunch of people in one ring, every man for themselves. Two of our forefathers would tell you themselves-- Ben Franklin once said "We must all hang together or surely we shall all hang separately"; Abe Lincoln said "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
We may not agree on the best way to move the country forward, but an utter contempt for anyone that disagrees with us on anything sure as hell is not it. If we don't learn to listen to one another, we all go down together.
Think about this: If we were bombed tomorrow morning by a foreign entity, any one you care to think of, would we set our differences aside and do something about it, or would we sit around and bicker about which party is to blame and speculate about the impact on the 2012 elections for so long that the same entity bombs us a second time?
If you even consider for a second that it might not be the first option, it's time to have a serious think about just how far our regard for each other has fallen, and what you personally are willing to do about it.