Tuesday, August 18, 2009
These CNN images of an automatic rifle-toting health care protester caused me no small amount of heartbreak this morning when I first saw them. You can read the original story here.
It wasn't because this was a citizen carrying a presumably loaded weapon to a site of public discourse. It wasn't that he equated debate with violence. It wasn't (just) the cool dispassion with which he responded to the reporter and the cold inexorable logic which seemed to have brought him to this set of actions.
It wasn't even that he was a fellow black man who felt he would have to defend himself from his black Commander in Chief... that this protester felt he needed to make a preemptive show of defense.
When asked why he brought the gun, the man - who refused to identify himself - replied, "Because I can do it." Later he said, "In Arizona, I still have some freedoms."
I was nearly heartbroken this morning because in a relatively short period of time - say a month - the national discourse has broken down to such a degree that some segments of the population feel we're on the verge of armed revolution. Rule of law and civility are nothing next to personal politics and emotion. The cynic in me would say, "What's new" but the other part of me, the maybe less reptilian part that generally has hope for people tells the cynic to shut the hell up.
Maybe there is a gap between the way we're expected to behave and the way we actually act. It is for all intents and purposes a hostile act to bring a gun to a health care debate and yet media outlets have reported multiple instances. And instead of outrage we barely respond. We've become so insistent on protecting our liberties that we ignore the fact that we actually have fundamental responsibilities as citizens and hell, as human beings.
Yes, a person can carry a firearm openly in the state of Arizona, but it's our responsibility to tell a person who brings a gun to a debate that they're escalating tensions, endangering others, and generally being a nuisance for its own sake.
Yes, a person can have a strong opinion on the overhaul of the health care system but it's their responsibility to do so in a way that's honest and doesn't involve shouting down the other side like wild-eyed mobs. This goes for both sides.
Yes, a person can editorialize on your national platform about your views about the government and how they're managing the country but it's your responsibility to make sure that there is a clear break between editorial content and the news. This means the relentless grinning, smirking, microsecond text polls, and controlled messages need to be identified as what they are - coded and colored presentations of opinion overlaid with the barest skeletons of facts.
Yes, a person can believe in creationism as the process of development of life on earth but they are not free to ignore the extensive scientific evidence or otherwise prevent others from learning essential scientific truths.
Yes, a person can - and should - work hard and earn money and be a success, but it's their responsibility to do so in a manner that doesn't harm the person next to them.
We're not a nation of lone citizens here - we're a collection of communities and shared interests. Why don't we start acting like it.