Small Wonders: Political debate only gets nastier

We all remember where we were when…

The stories are the same, yet each unique. I was at home in our apartment getting ready for work that September morning. My wife, six months’ pregnant with our first child, was doing the same. Then came an urgent knock at our door.

“Are you watching this?” our neighbor asked excitedly.

We turned the TV on and watched the images that are now emblazoned upon our national consciousness. We saw the second plane hit, then both towers crumble to the ground.

My wife turned to me with a look of shock and terror I’d never seen.

“What is happening?” she said in a frightened tone that captured the cry of everyone that day.

For a moment we were all united: not Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, Jew or Greek. We were American, and wounded. But it didn’t take long for our paths to veer as we walked into a new age marked by dubious wars, color-coded terror alerts and limited carry-on luggage.

In the moments following the news that Osama bin Laden was shown the door to this world in a hail of bullets, we were united once more. When I heard, I felt like running outside and screaming, “Burn in hell, Bin Laden!” I did something similar when the Dodgers clinched a playoff spot in 2004 on a Steve Finley grand slam.

But this is not sport or game. And images of people chanting in the street over Bin Laden’s death eerily resembled those we see on Al Jazeera when radical factions down an American plane. Such jubilation reduces us and the value of our achievements. Somber reflection and warranted satisfaction should be the response.

But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Not two weeks into a world made better by Bin Laden’s execution and we're at it again. In fact, if you read the blog comments on any news report immediately following his demise, you'll see the mudslinging started within hours.

Look no further than this newspaper's mailbag for conspiracy theorists spinning their imaginative webs, conniving to earn a spot writing espionage plots for tired TV shows.

President Obama got his shot, and he took it. Decisively. And, unlike his two predecessors, he got his man. Mission accomplished. Yet even that isn't good enough for those with opposing agendas. They are thrilled Bin Laden is dead, just not that it happened on this president’s watch.

They decried the inconsistency of the fragmented information trickling in from a highly complicated, international, covert military operation. Each new tidbit contradicted the last, demonstrating, they say, the incompetence of this administration, rather than pointing their fingers at a gluttonous society that craves information instantaneously, and a news media willing to give it to them quickly rather than accurately.

Yet they neglect to recognize the fact that the changing information made the president’s decisions regarding the raid that much more complicated to make, reflecting an administration that respects transparency over spin.

Tweets from pundits hit the smartphones of millions, demanding proof of death. Bloodlust and vengeance hiding behind accusations of pussy-footing and politicking. “We want a photo of a bloody carcass or you are nothing but a foreign-born liar!” As if showing such a photo to Betsy from Poughkeepsie or Chester from Seattle, or you and me, is going to prove anything.

Bin Laden is not dead, some say, and such myths gain life on Facebook and elsewhere — the whole endeavor an elaborate publicity stunt to distract us from the “birther” non-troversy.

He was dead long ago, say others, and just defrosted now to mark with fanfare the beginning of a reelection campaign.

It's easy to make incredulous statements when you know you will never be held accountable.

Fringe isn't just a bad TV show. It's where some people live. Some in caves in the borderlands of Third World countries — or in mansions nearby — fostering a sociopathic need to gain attention at the expense of truth, civility and common sense.

The fringe is where devious plots incubate, where the habitually dissatisfied cull power. It’s where the hate speech and empty rhetoric of a few plant the seeds of war in which so many will fall.

Extremism in any guise serves only to kill discourse, reason and the common ground we might meet upon with respect. And those that abuse our collective victories for their own agenda and gain are extremists — perhaps not with guns and bombs, but with words.

Call me naïve. My friends do. I understand that there will always be fringe thinking and extremist views on both sides of the political debate that will never be appeased.

But when we lose sight of our joint triumphs in favor of our hate-fueled differences, when we allow the skepticism that always follows success to foster baseless rumors, words from that fateful day almost 10 years ago should echo in our mind.

What is happening?

PATRICK CANEDAY is officially sick of Girl Scout cookies. He may be reached on Facebook, at www.patrickcaneday.com and patrickcaneday@gmail.com.
 
 

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