Octagon Soap

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It’s too bad that there isn’t a Great Mama in the sky who could take a bar of Octagon soap and wash out the mouths of the politicians in Washington, not to mention those of many of the talk-show tribe. Vituperation and ad hominem attacks have largely replaced debate in the U.S.

It is an extremely dangerous trend. Words might not be able to break bones, but they can destroy moderation. One of the factors that led to war in 1861 was the extreme vitriol of New England abolitionists. By demonizing not only slavery, but all Southerners, they made it impossible for any Southern moderate to survive politically. It was impossible to be seen as taking the same position on slavery as those people who were proclaiming their desire to see every man, woman and child in the South murdered.

There is a cultural divide in this country. The trouble is not with the divide but with the minority of extremists on each side who insist on demonizing people who disagree with them. Both the pro-life and the pro-abortion people are guilty of this. So are the homosexuals and those who would prefer homosexuality to remain a private matter rather than a public-policy issue. Both the leftists and the rightists are guilty of demonizing the other.

The only way a free society can function is for issues to be decided by a vote. The Democrats are wrong to block judicial nominees from getting an up or down vote, and the Republicans were wrong when they used to do it. The present so-called compromise was not intended to resolve the issue; it was intended to preserve the comfort of U.S. senators. It is wrong. Every single nominee should get an up or down vote. The Constitution does not require a supermajority for judicial nominees.

It also does not infringe on the minority’s rights when they lose a vote. No one senator has the right to frustrate the will of the majority. If the Democrats were so fond of the filibuster, one wonders why they didn’t use it when the issue of going to war with Iraq was being debated.

Democrats like to talk about the Republicans being in the grip of far-right extremists, but the fact is that the Democrats are in the grip of far-left extremists. To be pro-life is not an extremist position. To be a strict constructionist of the Constitution is not an extremist position, although regrettably it is a rare position. Both parties need to free themselves from the fringes of their base.

And all people, myself included, need to resolve to act like ladies and gentlemen, confine our arguments to the issues and refrain from name-calling and demonizing our opponents. If we don’t restore civility to public debates, we can be sure they will eventually escalate into violence. The only way Robert E. Lee ever referred to his enemies was with the phrase "those people." We would all do well to emulate him.

There will never come a day in a country as large and as diverse as ours where there will be unanimity on every issue. That is not even desirable. What is desirable and necessary is to maintain the freedom for all to express their differences and for all to agree that ultimately, after the vote is taken, we abide by the decision.

It is also necessary at this time for people of good will to publicly condemn those, regardless of who they are, who resort to character assassination and name-calling. I’m personally disappointed in Dr. Howard Dean. His personalized attacks are part of the problem, not the solution. He needs the Octagon soap. So does House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Nothing will so please the foreign enemies of the United States than to see us go from disagreement with to hatred of each other. Reckless rhetoric can create hatred, and once created, hatred metastasizes. Political hatred can be just as dangerous as racial hatred.

Acting like ladies and gentlemen is not the same as acting like wimps. It is instead acting with the courage and common sense necessary to preserve our country.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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