"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
That's not any great revelation ... but it's also not what I expected to come away from the speech with. I hoped to get to know Kerry and like Kerry better (I did). I hoped to feel better about his chances to beat President Bush in November (I do). But still, more than anything, I came away feeling the deep divide in our nation ... and the absolute necessity of making real progress at bridging it.
The speech itself was everything a partisan Democrat could have hoped for. It pushed all the right buttons and cast Kerry in just the right light, IMO. But that's the thing. It was a speech designed to cast one candidate in a great light and another candidate in a horrible light.
Now, you can say "what do you expect?" ... and of course, we shouldn't have expected anything else. Campaigns and elections are not about bridging gaps but about dividing the winners from the losers and making sure that you're not on the crappy end of inauguration day.
But where it really sunk in that we need something different is when Kerry said this:
I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush: In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity; let's respect one another; and let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.
My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks. This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, group from group, region from region. Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America red, white, and blue.
Those words sound great, but they are hollow ... because in the context of a speech like this they serve to do the exact opposite of what they describe. If either side really wanted this to be an open exchange of ideas, where both sides would admit the virtue in each other and be able to see the vice in themselves, this speech and the whole campaign would be very, very different.
Ironically, though ... Kerry was exactly right. We do need to build unity and reach across the divide toward each other. A high road such as this would be harder but it WOULD lead to a much better place. At most every level of our lives together as Americans (and certainly as we relate to each other around the world), we lack the ability truly to engage in conversation with one another. And by conversation, I mean getting to the root of what that word really means ... a root shared by the word "conversion." We lack the ability to engage with each other in ways where we allow for the fact that the other person or party might change our mind. The whole idea of changing our minds has been cast as vice -- making us a "waffler" or "flip-flopper." Gandhi said "I would rather be inconsistent than wrong." If he were running for office today, his political advisers would have him flip-flop that sentence in a hurry.
But we're a long way from this. I suspect that the way we approach politics in this country is a lot like the way we approach team sports. We have our favorites to which we give our allegiance and pretty much stick to them no matter what. To change, to admit vice in our party or virtue in another's, becomes the same as admitting defeat ... which everyone is loathe to do.
And so we have election after election where the two sides get more and more entrenched and the rhetoric gets stronger and more vicious and it all becomes less and less about public service and more and more about winning ... or perhaps more and more about not losing.
And when that happens, nobody wins. Because even when you win, all you are doing is just postponing another loss ... because the armies lined up against you are that much more intent on kicking your butt the next time. It's a cycle of violence every bit as real as what happens in war. And Gandhi was right about those cycles, too. Whether in politics or battle -- an eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.
I hope Kerry wins. That's my partisan statement. I hope so in large part because I believe that, if anything, he's not as far gone down this path toward self-destruction as our current administration. I hope Kerry wins because I hope he has a better chance of really wanting to make things different. But more than anything, I hope that somehow through this election we can see that things have to change in the way we do elections. That we need to start really engaging and listening to each other.
And maybe that starts not at conventions and with speeches but with us really listening to and carefully reading not just those who agree with us and make us feel better, but the best of the opposition. Maybe that starts with us seeking out those in our friends and families whose views differ from ours and not avoiding those topics as a gesture of keeping the peace but really engaging with them in love and respect in the spirit of conversation that leads to conversion. Not being afraid to admit -- even joyfully -- when we were wrong so that we all can learn and grow in wisdom together.
It sounds almost pollyanna. But the alternative is pretty dark and scary ... and were' already living it. It is a hard, high road ... but if we can travel it, I am convinced it will lead us to a better place.
| Mike at 7/30/2004 04:02:00 PM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."