Americans Need to Take a Deep Breath


In the 2000 election, cameras picked up one or two examples of Republican supporters intimidating opponents. More incidents have appeared as the bitterly contested 2004 election draws to a close. But it would be wrong to believe that these isolated incidents represent the Republican party as a whole. It would also be wrong to believe that Republicans hold a monopoly on election violence. It should be no surprise that we already have a number of incidents of violence against Republicans to counter the incidents of violence against Democrats. Indeed, I’d say that if anybody’s keeping score, the punch count is a tie.

Violence and intimidation of a legitimate political process is wrong in all its forms, of course, and it doesn’t matter who does it. As much as one side might want to get into the face of the other, the tactics that we find deplorable in others are not acceptable when employed by ourselves. It is yet another sign that politically active Americans everywhere need to stop and take a deep breath.

But the fact that I’m discussing this at all speaks to a wider need. Though it may be fruitless to ask for this as the 2004 election enters its final weeks, I still say that partisan Americans really need to take a deep breath. Partisan Americans need to remember that the people they are campaigning against aren’t the enemy; they’re Americans.

Fresh from my post expressing disdain over OCAP’s latest antics, I cannot help but wonder what’s gotten into some protesters’ heads these days, or in the heads of the people who deal with protests. Some fail to see the amount of bad publicity that results from any sort of bad behaviour caught on camera. Some even seem to believe that the depth of their political anger justifies acting in a manner offensive to a civil society.

Maybe they need to take a course on how to dissent and how to handle vocal dissent. For instance, Michael Wilson knows what to do when chanting protesters try to drown out speaking candidates:

Usually in situations with protesters our party supporters were advised to link arms and form a chain to try to keep the protesters away from where the leader was speaking. If the protesters became vocal, so did our folks, singing “O Canada”, or something. There was never any violence, even when we were beset by organized busloads of youth party members from other parties.

It should be simple: the person who throws the first punch loses. Period. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if the incidents we see at these political rallies are Republican and Democratic supporters attacking their own volunteers in order to generate as much bad publicity as possible for the other team.

So, it’s wrong to intimidate and attack volunteers on the other team. They’re as human as you are, even if they are Democrat, Republican or Green, and they deserve the same respect you expect, even if their political viewpoints are different. Which extends beyond a willingness not to throw punches at opponents, to a willingness not to use these isolated incidents to tar all opponents by the same brush

The right-hand side of the blogosphere has been posting heavily about a case where protestors from the American Federation of Labour scuffled with volunteers at the Bush-Cheney headquarters in Orlando, Florida. However, independent reports on the protests show that while a few people stormed the Bush-Cheney headquarters, and a handful are responsible for criminal assaults (which police are rightfully investigating), most of the protesters were protesting peacefully. Certainly, the actions of the individuals that stormed the offices and pushed around elderly volunteers do not reflect the attitudes and actions of Democrats in general, although some websites try to make this so.

The language used to describe the protest, and others like it, is loaded. This article from the Free Republic uses the keyword “thugs” in describing the incident. This news report uses the term “bullies”. A few people I know like to use the term “union thugs”, with the implication being if you belong to a union, you are automatically a thug. This site is a classic example, not only using the term “union thugs” but advertising itself under the phrase “Minnesota Democrats Exposed”, suggesting a wider agenda against all Democrats in Minnesota.

These assessments of the activities of these admittedly thuggish individuals is not a fair assessment of the hundreds of individuals, Democrats and Republicans, who show up to these political events. It is a lazy excuse to discredit a movement, discredit Democrats everywhere, without debating the issues.

And Democrats do this too. They point to other isolated incidents, and some have called all Republicans thugs on that basis. Even Liberals, Conservatives, NDPers in Canada are not immune. In Canada’s own election campaign, too many individuals threw out terms such as “fascist”, “commie” and worse with impunity. Then there was the case of Liberal candidates abandoning all reason and instigating confrontations with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. It’s one thing to disagree with the policies of Stephen Harper. It is quite another to hate the man as a person.

And given how many partisan supporters seem to pounce on the miscues of the other side, yelling “See? See? These guys are all morally bankrupt”, this is another example of the need to take a deep breath. Too often, partisan supporters use the isolated incidents of extreme opponents to tar the whole of the opposite party. That’s not constructive. More than that, it makes it more likely, not less, that these violent incidents will continue. After all, if you’ve come to see the other side as a monolithic set of thugs and criminals, why debate? Why wait to be hit by a placard when you can punch first?

It’s immature. It’s lazy. It’s politically destructive. It doesn’t put the interest of the nation first. It disrespects human beings who are owed respect. It’s a form of prejudice.

If you’re dealing with an opponent you feel strongly about, and who might campaign strongly against you, behave yourself. Don’t ever lose your cool. That way, if supporters of those opponents do move against you, you maintain the moral high ground.

If you see people supposedly acting on your behalf engaging in violent or criminal activities, condemn it. These individuals are doing your cause far more harm than good.

If you see people on the other side engaging in violent or criminal activities, condemn this as well, but refrain if possible from tarring all supporters of the party by the same brush. It’s fair to say that these shameful activities reflect badly on the movement these people supposedly support, but that’s miles different from accusing every member of the other side of being criminal, unpatriotic or treacherous.

As the days tick down to November 2nd, there’s a lot of political testosterone in the air, and I fear that a number of Americans are losing their perspective. Democrats and Republicans are no longer two political entities on either side of a (narrow) selection of the political spectrum, they’re enemies of the state whose victory would mean disaster of Biblical proportions. Some supposedly rational people have actually used this phrase, or portions of it.

But whoever wins on November 2nd, it will not be a “disaster”, “Biblical” or otherwise. Anybody who thinks so needs to have their priorities checked. Even though I consider George W. Bush to have been the worst president America has ever experienced, I don’t believe the country will not fall on his watch. Nor will it be solely his responsibility should it happen. Likewise, I predict that if Kerry wins, he will be about as far ahead in the War on Terror as Bush would be. It is simplistic to believe that the complex issues the presidency deals with can be answered by the simplistic solutions of one man, working with a diverse group of individuals in congress and the senate. It is simplistic to believe that all policies espoused by any mainstream political group is so completely wrong as to mean disaster if implemented.

We survived Reagan. We survived Clinton. We survived Trudeau and Mulroney. I predict we will survive, whatever else comes our way…

…so long as we never forget that we’re all in this together.

A Little Piece of History

George Finlinson’s 1864 Voyage is another example of how blogs can be effectively used for academic purposes. The decision of Mr. Finlinson’s great-grandson to post his 19th century journal of his journey to America makes for an interesting glimpse in personal history. It’s far from the only example of this sort of thing, and I predict we will be seeing more old journals uploaded onto the Internet in this fashion on the future.

Other History Blogs

  • The Blog of Henry David Thoreau
    Erin: I’m just trying to picture the Internet at Walden.
    Me: He probably uses dial-up.

  • This Day in Alternate History
    in 1521, Pope Henry VIII added to his title the phrase “Defender of the Faith”, as a sign to the Protestant movements that he would not stand idly by while they preached their heresy against the Holy British Empire.

  • A Journey Through Time
    A Canadian blog looking at yesterday’s history through today’s eyes.

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