Long: At least see opponents as human

Craig Long

While I was watching the recent Republican debates (it seems like there is one on every other day or so), I saw some very disturbing things. No, I’m not talking about Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, or Mitt Romney. The most disturbing thing to come out of the debates has been the reaction of the crowd.

Two distinct events stand out in my mind. The first one was regarding a question dealt to Ron Paul, asking a question that relates to healthcare. The hypothetical situation dealt with a critically ill, uninsured person. When asked if the person should be left to die, several members of the crowd quite disturbingly yelled “Yeah!”

The second event was the crowd’s reaction to a soldier asking a question about the recently changed American policy on gay servicemen and women serving openly. This is a soldier who has served in Iraq, placing his life on the line. After his question was asked, members of the audience booed.

Thankfully, it was only a few audience members who reacted in each situation. However, even a few people reacting in the way that they did gives a sad, sad image for where this country is and where it is heading. In the first instance, members were advocating the death of a person, assumedly under the pretense of wanting a smaller government. However, most arguments for smaller government rapidly progress to wanting lower taxes. 47% of people didn’t pay taxes in 2009 (according to NPR), so there is basically a 1-in-2 chance that those who yelled don’t even pay taxes. Even if they did pay, the impact of the government assisting one person with unexpected health costs on their specific taxes (or the national deficit, for that matter) is negligible. In the aggregate, I understand that healthcare is expensive, and some people may not believe that it is the government’s job to pay for individual healthcare. That’s fine. However, they didn’t yell “Bill him!” They yelled in support of the option to let him die.

The second example, the boos for the American soldier came from a Republican crowd, the patriotic folk who unwaveringly support our armed forces… unless they’re gay, apparently. I understand that not everyone supports gay marriage rights, particularly those in the conservative right. However, I must wonder… should a person, who would normally have been applauded and treated with the utmost respect and veneration, be booed because of an aspect of their private, personal life?

Where did we lose our humanity? Though the first situation was hypothetical, it is a situation that occurs to real people. And apparently, there are some among us who would have them die for being uninsured. The second was a real soldier, who has fought and bled for this country. He has risked his life while we have been free to pursue private gains for ourselves. All the while, he had to hide who he was from the government he was serving.

It seems as though we are mistaking our political colleagues as enemies. It isn’t just Republicans who do this, you can find many Democrats with equally extreme views. It isn’t enough to have an open and honest discussion about policies; it seems that there is a genuine thirst for blood out there.

We need to look at ourselves and our increasingly apocalyptic views. For example, people threaten to move to Canada depending on elections. Though they may not follow through with it, it shows that our country is rapidly progressing toward political extremes. We don’t view the other side as a respectable adversary, useful negotiating partner, and fellow American, but as an enemy who must be feared and defeated.

This all-or-nothing, factional attitude is fatal to the American style of government. It occurs especially when we stop seeing the humanity in those we don’t agree with. We don’t see that the person in the hospital could be our best friend, or that our cousin, unbeknownst to us, could be that gay soldier. When we begin to attack each other as enemies, we weaken ourselves. It is time to take a step back and realize that in order to rejuvenate the republic, we must understand there is more to our human condition than monetary gains and religious views. We must understand that we all share the same public space at the same time, and that self-interested action by one person harms everyone. The only way to truly benefit is to work together and respect each other.