Crossing the line in Lakeville

This is the salient part of the story about John McCain’s town hall forum in Lakeville this afternoon, from the story posted here on the MPR Web site:

“I don’t trust Obama,” a woman said. “I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”

McCain shook his head in disagreement, and said: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with (him) on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

It’s hard to know where to begin.

These visits are, we’re told, held to “fire up the base,” not to create a lynch mob.

The campaign has been spiraling for awhile. Perhaps it started with the disgusting credence and coverage given to the assertion that Sarah Palin’s baby wasn’t really hers, and went down from there. Or perhaps that was just another benchmark, but one wonders what we’ve done to suppress our basic decency?

Political campaigns are certainly emotional things. Is it time that we all think about what happened in Minnesota this afternoon, and try to identify how we, as individuals from all points of the political spectrum can ratchet things down a bit and search for intelligent debate on issues on which we may disagree?

Today was not a bright spot in the history of Minnesota politics. There’s always tomorrow, and we’re all better than this.

Aren’t we?

  • Ed Nelson

    Is McCain finally trying to temper down the typical Republican hate speech and vitriol?

    It is about time. We have to come together as a country and work neighbor with neighbor to clean up the absolute disaster that George Bush has brought us and keep our economy from slipping into the next Great Depression.

    The last thing we need is more hate and polarization. We can all blame idiots like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and many on FOX news for spewing constant lies and hate and sadly millions of Americans have obviously bought into this hate. It is sad. But I applaud McCain for finally showing his Maverick streak and going against the neonuts and religious right fanatics that have hijacked his campaign.

  • momkat

    Just when you think the world can’t get any goofier, Lakeville citizens join the pitchfork wavers. I am so embarrassed for McCain–what a pitiful campaign he has run.

  • Bob Collins

    Let me take another stab at this. So what can we as individuals do — ourselves — to restore a more civilized tone in how we discuss issues of politics?

  • It’s a thorny problem, Bob.

    Elections are necessarily about enthusiasm and getting your base to turn out in greater numbers than your opponent. How you do that and keep them level headed is a juggling act.

    Consider that the word “fan” is short for “fanatic” and you can see where the problem lies with something as inconsequential as sports, to say nothing of politics.

  • Dave

    Maybe the question isn’t so much about individuals…maybe the question should be directed at the press. What can they do about this problem? After all, Bob, you and your colleagues are supposed to be the moderators of the debate aren’t you? What I have seen is a press corps that can often spends too much time on charges from blogs — Brodkorb runs countless dubious personal assaults and the MSM runs with it. Coleman’s suits and apartment should be, at most, one day stories. They go on for days and weeks. Granted, the campaigns have certainly handled these things badly, but when it comes to issues — campaigns have an even tougher time getting attention. Maybe its lack of resources and too few reporters covering too many things….but you (the press) still make the choices about what you cover. Maybe, I’m wrong but as I watch the political discourse this season… it makes me wonder.

  • Bob Collins

    I do agree with you, Dave, and I think what we’re seeing here is the end result of horserace coverage that make spolitics little different than sports.

    However, what I’m trying to do here is see if we have the ability to look inward and not automatically point a finger of blame.

    Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting that the rough-and-tumble world of politics shouldn’t be rough-and-tumble.

    I’m suggesting that full-blown hate isn’t part of rough-and-tumble politics.

  • Rev Richard Shepardson

    The vitriol is just another form of fear mongering. By painting a candidate as the “other” we marginalize what they have to say. If as citizens we cannot believe that those who run for office are doing so for the good of the country we may as well not have a democracy. I would like to believe that we are better than that. The full blown hatred ,not to cast blame but to provide context, derived from the “moral” majorities indignation of Bill Clinton and has ragged ever since. The first sign of a degenerate society is a lack of manners and civility. It is okay to disagree but once you start using personal attacks you lose all credibility and reason. I hope and pray that we all strive to remember that.

  • David Brauer

    God forbid he should be an Arab.

  • Sarah

    I’m a young adult who graduated from the journalism school at the University of Minnesota several years ago. Something that struck me and has stuck with me since my intro to journalism class was a statistic that we were given that said average media in this country is geared towards an audience with a fourth grade intelligence level. I believe that if we want to have discussions that are civilized, intelligent, and based in reality, people need to wise up. People who see negative ads or read partisan material from either party and believe everything they hear or read should be embarrassed. People need to focus on really understanding the issues that will effect their lives and thinking critically about everything they hear. It just seems that the people who react with fear and anger are the people who don’t fully understand the issues. If we as individuals want to have a civilized discussion we each need to read a little more, listen a little more, think a little more critically, and stop believing every bit of rhetoric and irrelevant/false information we receive.

  • Paul

    Wow, the media caused the stock market panic, AND created the negative ad environment? Ban the media! My complaint about the media is this silly insistence on the pretense of balance. Many examinations have now determined that the Republicans are running the lions share of negative and dissinformative ads. I personally think (and I’m not a Democrat by the way) it’s always been because at the end of the day, they have nothing to say any of the issues people actually care about. This election cycle they can’t get any traction with their usual family values, anti tax, abortion drivel so it’s gotten really nasty. What can we do about personally? I hate to say it but the obvious answer is to not vote for thems that do it.

    The McCain campaign is particularly culpable in this election cycle. It’s been reported that people are calling Obama a traitor and someone shouted “kill him” at a Palin rally. It’s not an accident that this is happening at McCain events and not Obama events, McCain and Palin are stoking the fire. It’s nice to see McCian corrected someone in Lakeville but this has gotten so out of control I think they need to make it a part of their campaign to start every speech with an announcement that democrats are not traitors and enemies, their just another party, and Obama is not a traitor, and in this country we vote, we don’t kill candidates we don’t like. It would be nice to see McCain make a statement to that effect at the start of the next debate.

  • Bob Collins

    If I’m following this correctly, then, we as individuals have no ability to do anything on our own to change the tone of the country?

  • Paul

    The problem is the “The Great Stupid”. We spent the last 30 years being stupid and now it’s a mess. For 30 years Americans refused to vote for anyone who actually wanted to talk about genuine public policy issues, and didn’t promise to cut taxes. The quality of public discourse sank and sank to the point where pin heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Oreilly are considered intellectuals. From evolution to global climate change American are hopelessly confused if not willfully ignorant. In 2000 our country and our world faced what may have been the most critical juncture of our civilization in terms of foreign policy, economic issues, environmental issues, and domestic issues like health care and infrastructure, and energy. We elected a president who doesn’t read and brags about his ignorance, not just once, TWICE! Instead of making rational economic policy we relied on the magic of tax cuts and markets. Stick a fork in us, we’re done.

    For thirty years Republicans have practiced divisive politics because it worked for them. Americans were more than willing to actually cast their votes based personal preferences instead of actual public policy issues, we turned personal opinions about private matters into public policy, while real public issues languished and festered and grew into monsters. I graduated in 1981, with the exception of the cold war, we’re facing the exact same problems and issues today as I was voting on then. The only difference is everything gotten worse, there’s been no progress whatsoever. But hey, we built a lot of stadiums.

    Obviously the thing to do is stop shouting at each other about what we believe, and start talking to each other about what we know. But that’s not going to be easy, even McCain gets booed when he attempts to introduce some actual facts to people who’ve decided what they believe and don’t want to be confused.

    What we’ve done here is created a nation of consumers instead of citizens. As consumers, your only responsibility is to figure what you want and like. This has been extended to political and public policy arena. I’ve talked to several people who listen to Rush Limbaugh on a regular basis and I’ve noticed that no matter how many times you point out how unreliable his information is, they still defend him. Same with these with these twits that just accused Magic of faking AIDS. I realized a few years that people are impervious to facts because they just don’t care whether or not the information they get is reliable, they just want to hear what they want to hear. They don’t listen to Rush because he’s reliable, they listen because they like what he says reliable or not. That’s consumer behavior. They do the same thing with candidates.

    What can we do? We can start acting like citizens instead of consumers when it comes to public policy issues. We can stop electing candidates that divide us along the lines of our personal opinions about private matters. We can develop some critical thinking skills instead of high school debate mentalities. That would be a start.

  • Aaron

    One possibility is to reduce or eliminate the usage of arguments and campaign slogans that target the emotions of the public. Emotions are one of the easiest ways to change the views of a person. This display in Lakeville was grounded in emotions. The campaigns have been manipulating people based on how they feel about candidates and how that candidate’s actions have made them feel.

    In other words people can grasp something they feel, an emotional state. What kinds of feelings create the greatest response? Fear, loathing, anger. Therefore if a campaign can engender those emotions in the target audience they can greatly influence them.

    Which of the following statements has more emotional impact?

    “Candidate X has supported fiscal policies that have led to the loss of 10,000 jobs.”

    “Candidate Y has opposed legislation that will keep your family safe from terrorists.”

    Note the difference, neither is a positive statement, but one is targeted at the individual and is set to engage their fear and outrage emotional response. In order to overcome this people need to start thinking more with their head and less from the gut. Likewise campaign mangers and the nebulous media need to present issues based on logical reasoning, not emotional pandering.

    So to answer the original question, there is very little we as individuals can do aside from turning of the TV and the radio and getting out and taking a walk to get away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of this election.

    However, collectively we can all make a choice to reduce the influence of pathos in our political discourse and increase the amount of rational informed discussion that has been lacking in recent elections.

  • Greg

    I know you’re not looking to play the ‘blame game,’ but maybe part of the overall problem is how the candidates run their campaigns these days. As you pointed out while blogging the latest debate, the candidates aren’t answering the questions people are asking. They aren’t focusing on the issues, because as politicians it’s dangerous to take a stand one way or another. Rather, they’re pointing out the faults of others, and attacking each other. Since that seems to be what they’re giving the public, that’s what the public is regurgitating back to them.

    What can we as individuals do about it? I’m not sure. Can one person’s attitude change make a difference? Maybe, but not fast enough.

    Of course, all of this will blow over after the election, and we’ll forget all about how we acted, until 4 years from now, when we’ll do it all over again.

  • I disagree with some of the premises that underlay your question but will try to be as constructive as possible. So here’s some ideas for what individuals can do:

    1. Talk, in person, to your neighbors, coworkers, friends, strangers, and everyone you meet about politics and the world you live in. The art, or ability, to carry out face-to-face conversations has been in decay for a long time because of many factors – consumerism, television, economic, etc.

    2. Learn how to disagree with others without offending them. We need to talk to people we disagree with and realize that differences about politics do not equal someone else being a raving lunatic.

    3. Turn off the television and all other sources of media and go out into the natural world with a diverse group of people who hold different opinions.

    4. Study statistics. Learn what the difference is between a sample and a population, the definitions of mean, median, and mode. We all need to continually improve our understanding of the difference between the stereotype and the individual.

    5. Volunteer anywhere that let’s you interact directly with other people. I was going to say work in customer service or retail but that relationship is contaminated by money. Instead you want to seek out a position that introduces you to many different groups of people without being paid for it. If you are being paid to interact with other people then, no matter how sincere you are, there will always be a temptation to slip into a patronizing attitude or a foolish customer-is-always-right attitude.

    6. Get out of your car and walk through neighborhoods in your city or town. Being in a car alienates you from fellow humans. You can ignore a lot when you’re inside in a car. By getting out of it you just might learn something about other people and about the infrastructure that supports community.

    7. Take a class in a topic that interests you. You can do it for free at places like the Experimental College of the Twin Cities. Find someway to stretch your mind, even if you think that your mind is already open there is still more that you do not know than you actually know.

    8. Make something with your own hands. 24/7 access to the internet and television has convinced many of us that we don’t have any talent for the arts. Make it anyway and then give it away when you’re done.

    9. Challenge someone when they say something you disagree with. Hard to do in a world of Minnesota nice and go-along-to-get-along.

    10. Read existential philosophy, especially Sartre and Buber. Sartre was especially good on “bad faith,” and the corollary idea that we are all much more than any label. Buber was good on the relational – I and Thou – properties of human existence.

    Most of these ideas boil down to ways that we can learn to respect other people and keep our minds open to experience.

    Let me know when you want talk about the systemic problems that underlie your question. Perhaps that will be the topic for another blog post.

  • Paul

    I applaud Tom! Nice suggestions for getting us out of the Great Stupid. I forgot to address intolerance in my post. We need to appreciate our diversity, it’s always been America’s great strength. Every time we’ve been in a crises in this country, we’ve made progress by expanding civil rights and reducing intolerance.

    It’s been nice to see in this election cycle that “values” have taken a back seat to issues to some extent. Values voting was another characteristic of the Great Stupid. Why is it stupid? Look at the constitution, the founding fathers designed a secular government for a reason, and yes they did design a secular government. They were acutely aware of the religious wars fought throughout Europe for hundreds of years, not between different religions, but amongst people of the same religion. Our constitution seeks to protect us from intolerance by prohibiting government promotion of religious values. When government promotes values, it promotes intolerance. We don’t elect people to go promote our values, or our traditions, that’s not their job, their job is to run the government.

    For far too long way too many Americans have elected politicians who promise to promote values and defend traditions ( who’s values? Who’s traditions?) while dismantling the government (that’s what “small government” means). The exact opposite of what elected officials are supposed to do. Elected officials are supposed leave our values and traditions up to us, and focus on public policy issues and running the government. Is is any wonder that we’ve descended into a morass of intolerance and division? In a free country we’re supposed be free to have our own values and practice our own traditions as long as we behave lawfully and don’t cause harm to our fellow citizens. When you seek to use the coercive power of government to enforce one set of values or traditions over another, you promote intolerance and bigotry, and you undermine the very idea of a free country. Diversity isn’t the enemy, we’ve always thrived on diversity.

  • Randy

    Is McCain finally trying to temper down the typical Republican hate speech and vitriol?

    the absolute disaster that George Bush has brought us

    We can all blame idiots like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and many on FOX news for spewing constant lies and hate

    But I applaud McCain for finally showing his Maverick streak and going against the neonuts and religious right fanatics that have hijacked his campaign.

    Yes, thank you for your calm, rational observation that the problem is entirely on the side of the Republicans. Darned if I can figure out where all the anger and resentment are coming from after reading your logical and inspirational and completely non-confrontational post.

  • Zeb

    What an embarrassment. Why are these people still “angry?” They had their conservative government, and still have a saturation of conservative media propoganda.

    Being magnanimous is one thing, but we all know where this blind ignorance is coming from.