Olden: Start to break down the fences

Alex Olden

Stop, just for second. Take a minute to quit yelling about gun control. Wait a moment, and stop shouting about the sanctity of marriage. End the battle of liberals and conservatives; bury the hatchet on the party-politics of Democrats and Republicans, just for a second. If you don’t, then you might miss something very important.

Were you watching? Were you paying attention this past Saturday night when William Bennett made a point of denouncing the ridiculous amount of attention the media placed on his opponent, Howard Dean, due to his excited utterance on television? Did you see the Vermont governor recall positive past dealings with party opponent George W. Bush? Did you hear Bennett acknowledge that he and Dean were in agreement on issues pertaining to foreign affairs? Were you paying attention when Dean terminated a brief exchange of “yes-he-dids” and “no-he-didn’ts” by saying “we’ll just agree to disagree” on whether or not Dick Cheney called those who didn’t support the war in Iraq unpatriotic? Did you notice the smiles on the faces of Bennett and Dean as they graciously shook hands at the end of the event? And after that, did you watch Bennett politely step out of the way to let Dean exit the stage ahead of him? Were you watching? Or were you too busy building fences between donkeys and elephants?

I hope you didn’t miss the importance of the event that took place this past Saturday night at the University, because its significance extended far beyond the 2004 election arena. Deviating from an increasingly troublesome trend, Dean and Bennett held a two-sided political discussion without either one raising his voice. The two men disagreed on many issues, but no one overreacted or got upset. Both remained calm and collected throughout the evening. Sure, there was disagreement, but that’s a good thing. That makes for good discussion. That makes things interesting. What kind of a discussion is one in which everyone agrees? It makes yes-men of everyone involved. Dean and Bennett commendably put aside the absurdity of the media, which does little to break down the barriers of party politics when it does things like equating the words “shove it” with “Take these two mundane words and try to create a huge, controversial issue out of nothing!” They conceded some of the mistakes that their respective sides made. They agreed to disagree. They sat down and talked politics, civilly.

Nowadays, we’re too often afraid to discuss politics with someone who has beliefs in contrast to our own. We’re all guilty of it, myself included, and it’s a very unfortunate scenario. I realize that it keeps the peace in many situations, and discretion is obviously necessary on certain issues, but what good are we as citizens if we can’t discuss our own government because of a fear of discord? Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were arguments about politics. But no one got upset or dropped the F-bomb because he disagreed. And when the conversation ended, no one held a grudge and no one got upset. We went about our everyday lives as friends. People should be able hold friendly, civil conversations about politics, even if they disagree. So go ahead and discuss; you can even argue. It’s OK. We can disagree with people and not become their enemies; we can even be their friends.

As Dean said on Saturday night, “Politics is too important to be left to professional politicians.” Thus, we need to be able to discuss our government, and we need to eschew becoming foes in the process. We need to stop drawing social lines because of political beliefs. We need to trust each other to be able to see and accept the other side, although they may not agree with it, so we can talk about an important subject that affects us all. It’s time to start breaking down the fences.