Taking Out the Trash

Reading John Bolton‘s thoughtful review of Peter Collier‘s Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick (“Blue Jeane” in June’s Commentary Magazine), I was surprised to learn that Kirkpatrick was lambasted during her career by feminists. How is that possible? A woman who succeeded in academic circles that had heretofore been dominated by men, who considered herself a feminist, and who rose to the highest levels of government, was rejected by the very people who should have been cheering her success.  Bolton notes:

As she put it, “with a bitter smile,” in Collier’s description, “Gloria Steinem called me a female impersonator. Can you believe that? Naomi Wolf said I was ‘a woman without a uterus.’ I who have three kids while she, when she made this comment, had none.” A professor at Brown named Joan Scott said, “She is not someone I want to represent feminine accomplishment.” And those were the polite criticisms.

So much for sisterhood. My point, however, is not about feminism. It is about trash politics.

I had a discussion on Facebook recently with my friend Ada Shen and a gent by the name of Greg Diamond. Greg, for those of you not following Orange County (California) politics, is a self-proclaimed “very liberal” Democrat running for State Senate in the 29th Senatorial District representing the cities of Brea and Fullerton. Greg and I would likely find ourselves debating the opposite sides of any given issue, and I have some very strong objections to some of his positions.

Nonetheless, as I told him in our conversation:

I tread carefully on feelings because I think it is high time to exorcise the ad-hominem attack from politics. We need to assume the best of intentions on the part of those with whom we disagree, not the worst (unless proven otherwise in a court of law, of course.)

I write this not to pat myself on the back, but to point out that it is possible to have a conversation with a liberal (or, in a liberal’s case, a conservative) with whom we disagree without having the discussion implode into name-calling and a suspicion that the other person is an Epsilon-minus semi-moron.

If the internet has a downside, it is that it has aided in the decline of political dialogue until most of it rests in the gutter. Enough, already. The loss of civility in political discussion does not elevate a cause, convince a skeptic, or improve the nation. Let’s give respect, even undue respect, to those who disagree with us.

After all, this is, in the end, the United States. It would be nice to keep them that way.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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