Sunday, September 18, 2016

Let's Listen to Each Other!

Too many people treat politics and government like a football game.

My team is my team no matter what. So what if the tight end attacked a 90-year-old man? They're the 'Niners, man.

Politics oughtta be different. Local politics above all. We're neighbors. But some people see everything in black and white. Or red and blue. 

Someone on Facebook called Julia Brown “the worst county manager ever.” I disagreed. I've criticized her in columns, but she's smart, and I suspect she's hard-working. (I lack enough first-hand information to decide how I'd vote on extending her contract; but with the imminent change of commissioners, a three-year extension doesn't seem wise. An outgoing school board did that with Stan Rounds, which upped the cost to the public when the next board told Rounds to take a hike.)

When I replied that Brown definitely wasn't “the worst county manager ever,” someone said I was in favor of her because we both went to PVA meetings (I usually do. She was there once or twice to announce something.), and that I believed everything Billy Garrett told me.

I like and respect Billy Garrett. He's a smart guy, knows a lot about local government, and works incredibly hard as county commissioner. But I've disagreed with him strongly and publicly. 

Commissioner Ben Rawson's political views differ strongly from mine. I didn't vote for him. I'm appalled by some of what he says, and how he says it, but he appears to listen to his constituents. 

Barack Obama seems a smart and caring fellow with an astonishingly good temperament for the Presidency; but I've disagreed strongly with him on many issues, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and thought he relied too much on Wall Street types for advice on repairing our economy. I like that he's tried to avoid the pitfall of prejudging every foreign-policy situation based on ideology or a personal agenda; but recognize that such an approach can slip into uncertainty and lack of direction.

We're all imperfect. We're human. I try to listen to everyone with an open mind and make up my mind based on evidence. I still get things wrong sometimes.

Of course, some politicians make this hard. Reading Steve Pearce's recent op-ed about Rick Riscoria acting heroically in the World Trade Center fifteen years ago, I thought “I actually agree with Pearce about something!” Unfortunately, he segued into a partisan and misleading rant claiming that Obama created ISIS. Does he really not remember that the Bush administration lied about Iraq to start a war – and Congresspeople on both sides of the aisle, who should have known better, went along happily? I was disappointed, but not surprised, that instead of mourning our dead, Pearce turned a solemn subject into a dishonest bit of self-promotion.

And the temper of the times disfavors thoughtfulness. If you advocate better understanding between police and the communities they serve, you're labeled a cop-hater – even if you have friends in law enforcement and work with law enforcement officers every week. (Count me as one who thought it stupid and tasteless for Hillary to say that Donald's supporters were “deplorables.” Preferring Clinton to Trump doesn't require me to agree with all she says.)

I wish the paper could print this column without my name. Maybe we should read all newspaper columns without knowing who wrote them until we've finished reading. If we read the words, and assess the words, rather than spotting someone's name and going into attack mode, maybe we'd find some middle ground.

Think of it as working together to keep the stadium from falling down on both teams.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and possibly other newspapers this morning, Sunday, 18 September, and on the newspaper's website (where someone has already advised me that I am a pathetic columnist who is destroying the county) as well as KRWG-TV's website.]

[None of the above means I don't plan to vote for Hillary Clinton, don't think Donald Trump poses a unique threat to our democracy, or don't hold to values that tend to emphasize social concerns over pure capitalism, freedom over conformity or repression, as well as candor, openness in government, and the like.  I just get uncomfortable dismissing whole groups of people, or ignoring them.  I actually believe in free speech as central to our democracy, and in free, fair, and open discussion of ideas as a way to get to truths which may not be quite what anyone thought they were before the discussion.] 

[Locally, we cannot afford to let differing political opinions become feuds.  Doesn't mean we shouldn't each fight for what we believe is right.  I sure do.  But why should someone's unappetizing beliefs blind me to the good that person does or the laughs we have in the midst of disagreeing -- or the fact that I may learn something from him or her?  That's why I found the duplicitous municipal recall effort so unfortunate.  It crossed some line between disagreeing on facts and courses and used flat-out lies and vicious tactics.  I feel the same about "attack ads" that try to win election by last-minute false and scurrilous newspaper ads.  But I still can't afford not to take my best shot at civil discourse with the people responsible for those.
I've seen a couple of recent examples of folks from different places on the political spectrum working together: after an employee in the County Clerk's Office committed crimes, Deputy City Clerk Scott Krahling reached out to Russell Allen and other Republicans to participate in a committee to look at procedures in the office and see whether additional safeguards might be usefully implemented; and a similar bipartisan committee has worked on getting out the vote.  Some of my Democratic friends understandably criticized that, but it was probably a sensible move.  In advocating a Detention Center Citizens Advisory Committee, I found that it was championed on the Commission by Billy Garrett, but Allen and other conservatives, who are generally skeptical of governments and in favor of citizens getting a look at things, also favored the creation of the committee.]


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