Editorial: Ryan’s State Fair appearance shows extremism of the other side

Editorial Board

Now that we have had a full day to digest this year’s installment of the annual extravaganza that is the Iowa State Fair, including all the fried butter on a stick, it is time to examine the highlights of those 11 days. Buried within all the livestock showings, concerts, museums and contests were soapbox appearances by important politicians at The Des Moines Register Service Center.

One of them stands out: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, now Mitt Romney’s pick for vice presidential candidate.

One of the more polarizing figures in Washington and perceived as a contributor to the nearly unprecedented political polarization and partisanship that make that city stand out, Ryan mounted the soapbox on Monday, Aug. 13, to stand and deliver a 12 minute speech in which he fired up the audience and laid out the Romney campaign’s five-point plan “for a stronger middle class, to get this country back on track, get this country growing jobs again and get us back on the path of prosperity in this country.”

Unlike typical political rallies, not all the 3,000-person crowd was made up of Romney-Ryan supporters.

That was apparent right from the get-go, when two women from the organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement disrupted Ryan by shouting and nearly jumping on-stage with him before he really had a chance to say anything. At last, after months of harping on Republicans and conservatives for their partisanship in Congress, among media pundits, and on the stump, there is a highly visible example of distasteful ideology from the liberal wing of American politics.

Ryan was right about at least one thing when he spoke on that soapbox: The two ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin. Their marked failure to treat him as an equal member of the political world is not what politics is supposed to be. The political world is one of collaboration, not adversaries dueling back and forth.

Heckling does not mean disruption; it means questioning the mob mentality that accompanies crowds, dissolving it into an assemblage of individuals. We can hold people accountable for their actions and speeches and ask hard-hitting questions, while remaining polite.

If we expect decency from our politicians in their plans for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid or in tax policy, we must exercise discretion and be decent when we have the opportunity to deal with them.

There is a time to be forceful and unpleasant. But those times are few and far between. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s original opinion of pornography, we’ll “know it when we see it.” Some of Ryan’s final words on the soapbox are a testament against the recent partisanship in Congress and the crowd before him: “But you know what it is at the end of the day? We are Americans.”