Silence isn’t patriotic

Much has been made in the media about the “mood” of the country after the divisive presidential election of 2004. In his concession speech, Sen. John Kerry mentioned “the desperate need for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together.”

President Bush, too, called for unity. “I will need your support, and I will work to earn it.”

We hear calls for unity from the top level of government—the presidency—right on down to Reno elections where incumbents carried the day and added another establishment voice to the choir.

There’s only one problem with all this hand-holding, self-congratulatory, nice-making: It’s baloney. It all translates to “politics as usual.” These talks of mandates at all levels of government are just that, talk.

On a local level, some key politicians, like Jim Galloway, were re-elected despite an enormous inequality of money spent in support of their opponents. Does that suggest a mandate for unlimited growth or maybe a change from the politics of cautious dissent until most facets of an issue are examined? Not a chance.

Of course, after an election, many people are going to call for unity. The majority calls for unity because unity will allow it to push through its agenda without having to deal with the niceties of public discussion. The minority calls for unity like a conquered foe calls for mercy—because it doesn’t want to suffer any more than it has to; it loses less ground that way, and it allows itself to paint the majority as arrogant and uncaring when the majority goes about its business.

The thing is, the minority and the majority are at philosophic odds. Is there a middle ground between the anti-abortion and the pro-reproductive rights contingents? No. Would politicians like Bush, who had anti-choice planks in their platforms be hypocrites if they didn’t strive with all their might to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes.

On the other hand, wouldn’t pro-choicers be abdicating their duties if they didn’t use any tool at their disposal, including filibuster, to block any presidential appointments that might undermine a woman’s right to choose? Undoubtedly.

This is how it’s supposed to work, folks. American politics is supposed, at least on some levels, to be comprised of angry voices, argument and never meeting in the middle. One party or the other gets a one-person majority, and the country lurches to the left or to the right like a drunken reveler down the middle of Virginia Street. The “middle,” our country’s character, is found by the pushing and pulling across the middle ground.

There is no treason in disagreement. It also goes without saying that when all hearts are pointed in the same direction—like after 9/11—much can be accomplished.

The bottom line is that when one philosophy is diametrically opposed to another, and it calls for unison, that voice is really saying, “If you can’t agree with what we say, then shut up.”

But silent disagreement is rarely patriotic, and American politics was never supposed to be about convenience.