Both Sides Now 

Two Memphians argue (nicely) for a return to civility in our political discourse.

My road to the recent Republican National Convention began last December when I pulled a petition to get on the February ballot. As I asked 150 friends and acquaintances to sign so that I could run for delegate, a good many were surprised to learn that I was a lifelong Republican. That made me happy because I have a strong dislike of being pigeonholed. On the one hand, I have a handgun permit, advocate limited federal government and strong states' rights, and wax nostalgic for fiscal conservatism. On the other hand, I've spent years volunteering in inner-city neighborhoods, subscribing to The New Yorker, and volunteering for public radio.

All too often, we decide who we like or dislike having no more information to go on than a soundbite on a single issue, which may or may not be in context. When people don't follow expected paths, sometimes it's hard to know who to trust or suspect or love or hate. Is a single issue enough to make that determination? Or does it take at least two points to draw a line toward the "enemies list"?

I hate suicide bombers. I hate okra. I hate Norway rats. But I don't really want to go much further with a hate list. I do not hate entire groups of people based on race, ethnic origin, hairstyle, or political choices. I dislike people who talk on cell phones in movie theaters, who park in handicapped spaces without a tag, and who reelect incompetent, corrupt politicians, but I don't hate them.

This presidential election is unlike any in my lifetime. The two major candidates are radically different, though both have some good ideas. This election can be the catalyst to move people not normally involved to become fully engaged between now and November — and hopefully for much longer.

Recently, I sent an e-mail invitation to a gathering at my house which began, "I have nothing bad to say about Obama but a great deal of good to say about McCain." It is a pipedream to think that the national campaign strategists on either side will follow suit, but in spite of what others do, let each of us make an effort for respect and encouragement while we promote our candidates and causes. — Ken Hall

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is, "The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand during times of comfort and convenience, but rather where they stand during times of challenge and controversy." Judging by the level of vitriol going back and forth between the camps of both candidates in the 2008 presidential election, there's no doubting the fact that Americans now face such a time.

Supporters on both sides are firmly entrenched in their positions on a myriad of domestic and foreign issues. The war on terror, the malaise of the U.S. economy, rising oil prices and health-care costs, a shrinking middle class, and mounting corporate bailouts are all issues on which both Republicans and Democrats have strong stances. The expectation is that the candidate one supports will move the needle forward (whatever direction forward implies for you) and improve life for all Americans.

As each of us zealously supports our chosen candidate, it is important that we are able to disagree without being disagreeable. Our country and future generations deserve better. The bitterness and divisiveness that too often permeate the political process — the "us vs. them" mentality — should be dialed down in this election, more so than in any other. America has the opportunity, in either party, to make history, showing the world how far we have progressed as a nation. We also have a chance to institute major policy reform in areas such as Social Security, energy independence, public education, and affordable health care. These are neither Republican issues nor Democratic issues. They are American issues. Our greatest challenges are indeed our greatest opportunities to bring solutions to everyday Americans.

America's forefathers debated the issues of their day with passion and forthrightness, charting a course for a new nation. They should be our example of how to love our country, argue our positions, and maintain respect for each other as Americans. Ultimately, each side wants what's best for all of America.

In this age of spin tactics, 24-hour news cycles, and "527" political organizations, there are skeptics who question whether returning to the spirit of those days is even possible. History has shown that in times of challenge and controversy, Americans always rise to the occasion.

I consider that fact to be a resounding "YES WE CAN!" — Darrell Cobbins


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