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Political trash talk deserves our contempt- and our repentance

John Hinderacker over at PowerLine has, it seems to me, a pretty accurate diagnosis of Andrew Cuomo's problem: he's talking "trash" when he calls the half of the country which is pro-life and the half of the country which opposes marriage deconstruction "extreme." And he's certainly "talking trash" when he describes those who oppose marriage deconstruction as "anti-gay."

One might even describe Gov. Cuomo's rhetoric as "extreme."

At one point several years ago, Barack Obama talked a purple streak about the need to do something about the incivility and divisiveness which has come to characterize political discourse (never mind that he's been one of the worst offenders since then). It's a cancer on our political process and on our communal life as a nation. It's the reason why politicians generally- and Congress in particular- are held in such well-deserved contempt by the American people.

Who engage in the same kind of garbage around the water cooler. We all do it, whether we're Republicans, Democrats, or independents. A good friend of mine- a liberal Democrat and a fellow history major at River Forest- points out that this kind of garbage has always been with us. Abe Lincoln was "the original gorilla" long before George W. Bush was "the chimp." And who can forget the 1884 presidential election, in which "Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine/The continental liar from the State of Maine" competed against "Ma, Ma, where's my pa?" ("Pa" being Grover Cleveland, who fathered an illegitimate child; upon his election, his supporters completed the couplet: "Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!"). No, American politics has never been noted for its elevated level of rhetoric.

But these days it seems to have virtually replaced reasoned debate. The trash-talking on the Right is, of course, just as contemptible as that on the Left. And we all do it, myself included.

Maybe my original thesis needs to be amended. Maybe the problem isn't simply that we as a society are becoming coarser and less civil as time goes on (though it seems to me that what may have always been true of our political discourse has spilled over in recent years into every other aspect of our lives; the boorish disrespect for the religious convictions of others which has manifested in recent years, for example, may have precedent in past bigotry and- to a degree- even persecution of American religious minorities, but never has it been more universal and less shameless. And of course, the malignant partisanship which has rendered it less and less possible for Congress to do its job (comity has given way to bad comedy as Republicans and Democrats outdo each other in childishness and pique) has resulted in record-low popularity ratings for the institution, for politicians generally, and specifically the Republican party.

We need to be able to discuss our disagreements again instead of simply calling each other names. I'm not suggesting that political trash talk is likely to go away this side of the Parousia. But overheated rhetoric like Gov. Cuomo's only makes the problem worse.

And so does our own. Even as I criticize Cuomo, I'm aware of my own tendency to talk "trash" when dialogue and reasoned debate is what is needed. It's hard for any of us see clearly enough to remove the speck in the other guy's eye, given the size of the beam in our own.

Andrew Cuomo should be ashamed of himself. So should the Tea Party and the crazies of the Right who treat President Obama with such disrespect. But perhaps what's needed most of all is a dose of good, old-fashioned μετἀνοια, aka "repentance."

We all should be ashamed of ourselves.


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