Let’s set an example

Published 7:49 pm Sunday, January 4, 2009

By Staff
In Guinea — that’s a little country in Africa — the president’s death from natural illness was the trigger for a coup last month. It was bloodless, thankfully.
Bangladesh is painfully creeping back to democracy after two years of military rule. The military there tried to clean up politics by locking up the leaders of the two main parties, but neither party would support the move unless it was applied only to the other guy (or gal, since both parties there are led by women).
In Palestine, the Hamas government of Gaza (which won elections) has been pounded by Israeli bombs. The Hamas leaders (and associated civilian casualties) were visited with high explosives because Hamas won’t stop — or at least stop people from — lobbing rockets into Israel.
But the attacks are also the latest twist in the storyline running up to elections that will be held in the indeterminate future in the West Bank, another Palestinian area. Hamas is hoping to unseat Mahmoud Abbas, who’s seen as relatively pro-western in the West Bank. He took fire for criticizing Hamas early in the fight, but has since spoken harshly about Israel, too. Israel is also about to have elections and it would be foolish to think this action won’t impact those.
All of this is to say that, with inauguration day fast approaching, we should all be grateful that American politics and American gangsterism are separate.
Hold your jokes about Chicago, please. Sure, there’s a lot of scum floating around up there, and the governor of Illinois seems like a bad parody of political corruption, but there’s no violence. The U.S. Attorney is working to convict the man, and the state’s politicians are working to unseat him, but it’s getting done without anyone massacring anyone with machetes.
This adherence to rule of law is in spite of the fact that Americans’ faith in our system has been shaken in the last half-century. Richard Nixon, Oliver North, Bill Clinton, New Gingrich and others made it clear that no one party has a monopoly on politicians who are double-speaking, two-timing, philanderers or some combination of the above.
Lately, increased surveillance operations and open-ended detentions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have divided our country. Some say we’re acting like third-world dictators. Others say we’re doing what we must to protect ourselves.
But plenty of thinking people have a view somewhere in the middle. They might think, for example, that the suspension of habeus corpus — a Latin phrase meaning “cough up the prisoner or charge him,” essentially — is an acceptable power in wars that have definitive ends, but not in battles against nebulous concepts like terrorism, which don’t have clear, defined stop points.
These people in the middle ground increasingly have been forced to choose between picking a side and sitting on the sidelines, which has created heated political discussions in an increasingly cynical political atmosphere.
Let’s be honest: There was plenty of name-calling in the last presidential election and about enough good will to drown a flea.
So, let’s be grateful we can have a contested election that’s contested only with name-calling. But let’s also resolve to do one better, to always be an example to not just the third world, but the whole world.
We should have frank, open and nuanced discussions about political issues.
We shouldn’t shade the truth to avoid the unpleasant elephants in the room, and we shouldn’t use reactionary rhetoric to sharpen the divide between the two sides in any debate. Indeed, we need to stop having debates with only two sides. Instead, we should have reasoned positions, regardless of what platform they fit with.
It’s easy to say and hard to do, but we haven’t had a coup yet, so who knows, we might just succeed.