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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

From the two extremes of the political spectrum, the calls for violence and retribution resound.

Today, it’s ostensibly about the health care wars. Tomorrow, it may well be about the increasingly devastating effects of global warming, water shortages and what should be done about it.

But in fact it’s all about power, personal ambition and a willingness to vilify the opposition in the most caustic, apocalyptic and absolutist terms.

Sarah Palin, the politically rambunctious Wicked Witch of the North, put out a map of the U.S. with pretty little targets pasted on Democratic districts that she wanted to obliterate, the implication being that if votes failed, ballistics would not.

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart railed against the declarations of destructive malice pouring forth from the Teabaggers and spilling (or, in one case, apparently spitting) all over anyone in Congress who voted in favor of Obama’s health care reform package.

At one point, a video captured a man fuming right back at the Tea Partiers, with a remark along the lines of, “Bring ’em on. Liberals have guns, too.”

And on and on it goes, sometimes in far more nasty language. I must admit that I’m sometimes as guilty as the next guy, getting carried away with imagery and the need to shout out my anger.

The images that arise from all this are unsettling, to say the least. Intolerance begets violence, both figurative and literal, and violence begets more violence, whether verbal or physical.

Margaret Atwood, in her 1985 book, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” wrote about a future in which we are ruled by a theocracy that relegates women to the status of pieces of furniture, fights endless wars to justify its repressive excesses and rationing of goods, and is propped up by a sagging oligarchy of rich, almost exclusively white, men.

One can imagine the religious right, the Tea Partiers and their ilk, fantasizing about just such a future, in which righteousness as they define it provides rank and privilege to a select few believers, while the rest of us scrabble in the dirt.

I’ve recently been reading a book, “The Hawk and the Dove,” about two of the principal architects of the Cold War, Paul Nitze and George Kennan, who for more than half a century practiced their own versions of the same kind of polemics.

Granted, their words were more measured, their tones more reasonable-sounding, than the screams and taunts being tossed around at rallies, coffee klatches and bar rooms these days. And as advisors to the best and brightest of this country’s leadership, elected or not, they had a far different audience to play to, and a background of life-long respect and friendship to keep the animus from getting out of control.

These two men, and the crews of acolytes and sycophants who had their backs, argued over everything from the survivability of a nuclear holocaust on an unprecedented scale, to whether the United States should put an authoritarian strait-jacket on its body politic. But they essentially were engaged in exactly the same kind of schoolyard baiting and biting as we are witnessing today.

Locally, we in Western Colorado can see similar battles, albeit on a much smaller scale and scope.

In the Town of Silt, two slates of candidates for the town’s board of trustees are tearing at each other with a ferocity that, in tone if not in volume, matches anything ever conceived on the national political stage.

Is this the only way our political differences can be dealt with? I don’t know, although I’ve been watching these kinds of scenes unfold for long enough that I’m starting to worry that it is.

Hyperbole and high-volume accusations seem to be the only way we can break through the fog of distrust and apathy that enwraps the general voting public.

Oh, once in a while a candidate, such as Barack Obama, manages to touch something a little brighter and finer in our political psyches, and we react like he’s some kind of Messiah until he gets mired in the practicalities and treacheries that make up politics as usual in Washington, D.C. Then, of course, we jump all over him and declare him a traitor to his own ideals and our faith.

Again, it goes on and on, in fearful repetition.

All I can say is, if there’s a better way, we’d better find it soon, before it comes down to fighting in the streets.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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