Thursday 29 Sep 2016

An End to the Debate
AJ Robinson

Years ago, one of my favorite shows was "M*A*S*H." The show could make me laugh and make me cry, and usually in the same episode! I remember this one where Hawkeye and BJ were trying to keep a commander away from his troops. The man was obsessed with capturing a worthless piece of "real estate" and he didn't care how many men had to die for him to do it. Hawkeye and BE had drinks with him, and drugged him to give him a stomachache. Now, BJ just wanted to make him think he was sick and he needed to rest for a few days, but Hawkeye told the commander that he had appendicitis and needed an immediate operation.

The operating room staff prepared the commander for surgery. Hawkeye and BJ engaged in a heated debate about what Hawkeye was planning to do; BJ was absolutely against it, it was contrary to all he believed in as a doctor and a surgeon. As far as Hawkeye was concerned, the act was justified in that it would save countless lives. Both men were right, and they defended their position with passion. The thing is, when it was all over; Hawkeye did the operation, and BJ had no part in it, they were still friends. Did this incident mar or taint their friendship? Probably, but they got through it.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan became president. He made sweeping changes to the course of the country. At one point, when a vote on some of his legislation was going on in the House of Representatives, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, was sitting in his chair, a forlorn and sad expression on his face. What was the reason his facial expression? Reagan had convinced enough Democrats to back his agenda that it was going to pass; O'Neill could do nothing to stop the vote. After the vote, he even called the president to congratulate him.

Later there was the attempt on the life of the President. One of the first people to visit him in the hospital was O'Neill. They prayed together.

I also recalled hearing about a speech that President Kennedy gave back in the early 1960s. In it, he talked about the fact that the Democrats and Republicans both had different ideas about where the nation should go and how it should get there. He said that it wasn't a question as to which one was right or wrong or that one plan was better; they were merely different, and it was up to the American people to choose which one they wanted to adopt.

These examples point to the same principle: dignified and honorable debate.

We seem to be losing that, these days.

These days, it seems that it isn't enough to disagree. Now, we have to be disagreeable. Now, the opposition isn't merely different or even wrong; no, they're downright evil. Obama isn't just a Democrat, he's an alien, he's a Socialist, a Communist; he determined to destroy the nation. The Republicans are no longer the loyal opposition. Today, they're a bunch of gun-toting, Bible-hugging tea-partiers.

In both instances, it makes it very hard to engage in any sort of constructive debate. After all, if the president is the anti-Christ, how can you compromise on education, defense, investments in renewable energy? If the opposition is just going to say no to everything, then why even try to bring them into the legislative process?

If we're to survive and grow as a nation, then we have to tone down the rhetoric and start working together. We are not the only nation in the world, and other industrialized countries are not going to sit and wait for us to organize. They will move forward, and we will slip from being a superpower.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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