Living and working in Washington, DC, it is not possible to hide from politics. This is a political post.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the government shut down for almost three weeks, and re-opened yesterday. What has been fascinating and troubling to me is how some key players (Sen. Cruz most notably, but pretty much the Tea Party-elected representatives) have so much influence in all of this. Their claim to act as they have is that they ran on and were elected a platform of shutting down Obamacare.
What is disturbing about this mindset is the lack of appreciation that we live in a pluralist society and, in this kind of society, "my" or "our way" is not always the way things can and should go. It's offensive when people claim to speak for "real Americans" as Cruz, Bachmann and Palin so often do.
But, this is not just the purview of the Tea Party. The far left has often acted just as smug, righteous and divisive. When I lived in DuPage County, IL - a fairly conservative county - in 2006, Tammy Duckworth was first running for congress. She narrowly lost to Peter Roskam in the election for the seat vacated by retiring Henry Hyde. Duckworth had not been the favorite of many of the DuPage Democrats because she was a military veteran and not "liberal enough." This tepid support may have negatively influenced her chances. Similarly, the Green Party of 2000 basically paved the way for Bush. And in 2012, there was the incredibly wasteful "Recall Walker" effort in Wisconsin. It seems to me that, as we become increasingly polarized as a society, we are also entering into a period of shut-downs (or taking things to the edge) and recall efforts (as seen in Wisconsin and Colorado). This is also perhaps influenced by our increasing need for immediate gratification (as much of the left demonstrated with the rapid disappointment that Obama did not immediately shut down Guantanamo, end "don't ask/don't tell", etc.). Certainly, Quakers are also susceptible to this, with our "War is not the Answer" and other righteous statements.
A few years ago, I read a book titled "In Praise of Doubt: How to have convictions without becoming a fanatic." My big takeaway from that book is that, in a pluralistic society, it is important to have deep convictions, but to hold them with just enough doubt that it doesn't serve to divide us further. This means that, while I may always be the voice for gay rights, environmental responsibility, non-violent actions, I do so with the awareness that mine is one of many voices in the choir that needs to learn to sing together. Remembering the line from the Prayer of St. Francis - that I seek to understand, rather than to be understood - helps ground me here as well.
For sure it is easy to point the finger Cruz and his cronies for the recent fiasco. But just as easily, we could be pointing fingers at Nader and the Green Party, and all people who feel so certain of their stances that they live a "with me or against me" sense to them. We need to do better. I can say that this is one of the things we try to nurture in our programs at William Penn House - the practice of listening and noticing, not reacting and judging. We have plenty of opportunities to do the latter; what we need is more of the former to raise civility in the world.
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