Vision

Yesterday CNN.com ran op-ed pieces from President Obama and his challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on their respective ‘Visions’ for America. These commentaries were basic renditions of their stump speeches and didn’t really provide anything new, not that I expected any different with three days to go until the election. But CNN did do something intriguing. Next to the links for the op-ed articles was a third link asking visitors to the site to share their vision for America. The network asked for a short video or paragraph but when it comes to something as grand as a vision for the county I don’t think a short paragraph will do the job. For that reason, I am posting my own op-ed piece for anyone who’s interested.

Like Obama and Romney, I have a vision for America. I don’t know if it’s one that anyone will agree with it but it’s a vision of the kind of country I would like to live in. Now when you read my idea you will probably think me a romantic, a dreamer, and perhaps unrealistic. I’ll give you that. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dreaming. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a romantic. What’s wrong is when you are ridiculed for believing in something greater than what we have. What’s wrong is when you’re told your dreams are unrealistic because ‘the world doesn’t work that way.’ What’s wrong is being told to shut up because those who disagree with you don’t want to hear what you have to say. If someone doesn’t want to hear it, nobody’s forcing that person to listen. Or read, for that matter.

This idea of TOLERANCE (I used caps on purpose) is not popular in America right now. And I’m not just accusing any particular political persuasion of it—we’re all guilty, myself included. As proof that I’m no better than the rest let me tell you what I have trouble tolerating: far-right conservatism. This is the 21st century and we have a small, but very vocal, group wanting to turn back the clock two hundred years. As someone who has always hoped for a better future I have on more than one occasion expressed the wish for these people to shut up and go away. This is a direct contradiction of the spirit of TOLERANCE I profess to believe in and I apologize. I’m not changing my view of the far-right but I acknowledge their right to exist and express their view, no matter how much I may disagree with it.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” –Voltaire

I love those words. I don’t know if I have the courage to live up to the ‘defend to the death’ part but I love the principle. Everyone has the right to their opinion and the right to express it. The problem has become that those who disagree with a particular point of view have come to feel they must shout down those who disagree. It is no longer enough to simply say “I don’t agree with you and here’s why.” Now it’s “I don’t agree with you, here’s why, now shut up!” Am I the only person who thinks this is wrong? I can’t be.

Thirty years ago the two most important people in the U.S. House of Representatives were Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill and Republican Leader Bob Michel. Here’s a shocking fact for you: These two got along! They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum but they got along. They were actually friends. Any Republican politician who professes a friendship with a Democratic politician today is immediately branded a traitor. And compromising with your political opponents to get things done? Heresy!

Scoff if you will, this is the truth. Can you imagine John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, inviting Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for a friendly round of golf? Not to discuss legislation or tend to other political business but just to socialize outside the partisan crossfire of Congress. Can you imagine what the hyper-partisans would say about that? Yet is is that sort of friendly socializing that O’Neill and Michel engaged in on a regular basis and they, get this, managed to actually get things done. A far cry from the Congress we’re saddled with today. I’m reminded of something the comedian Gallagher once said (not too long before demolishing a pile of fresh produce), ‘Congress’ is the opposite of ‘Progress.’ A visionary, indeed.

Now at this point many of you will no doubt say “But whose fault is that” and proceed to cast the blame on those you disagree with for the end of civility in politics. You may blame Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. You may blame Newt Gingrich or the Tea Party. You may all be right, you may all the be wrong but are you ready for this? IT DOESN’T MATTER ANYMORE. It’s been going on so long we don’t seem to know how to do anything else. Or, as my wife will say when our kids are fighting, “I don’t care who started it!”

Okay, this piece was supposed to be about vision. If you’ve been paying attention you’ve probably already figured it out. My vision is actually a simple one: a country where we can get along no matter what our political views. Or our religious views. Or the color of our skin. Or our ethnic heritage. Or (and this is coming from a Cubs fan who always roots against the Cardinals) what baseball team we root for.

It this a pipe dream? Probably. Will it ever happen? I doubt it. Is it a dream worth believing in? Absolutely.

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