By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – Republicans pounced on the initial failure of the Democratic National Convention to adopt a platform that made specific mention of God or recognized Jerusalem as the proper and permanent capital of Israel during their convention in Charlotte in much the same way that Democrats pounced on GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s public admiration of author Ayn Rand’s philosophies on capitalism and individualism.
The debate rages over whether a separation of church and state should mean a separation of church from the state. The platform fight – clumsily handled – put a bulls-eye on the Democrats.
Some GOP conservatives were quick to seize on the DNC platform debacle as evidence of a convention hall full of “Godless” Democrats. Some zealous Democrats labeled Ryan “anti-Christian” because he dared praise an author who has influenced many conservatives and libertarians.
Both of those reactions – however pleasing to the most rapid partisans in both parties – have little to do with reality.
Democrats have struggled to reconcile the issues of separation of church and state, diversity and retail politics for decades. The erosion of Democratic support in the South and Midwest trace in part to those difficulties as evangelical voters quit the party rather than compromise on their individual religious values.
Republicans have struggled as the right wing of their party was increasing populated by libertarians and Tea Party conservatives who increasingly rejected GOP moderates in favor of rising young GOP stars like Ryan whose world view was closer to their own than to the Lowell Weikers and Nelson Rockefellers of the party.
But the suggestions that Democrats are “Godless” or that very conservative Republicans are “anti-Christian” are examples of the astonishing lack of tolerance, civility and common decency that has come to mark modern politics. It’s no longer enough simply to disagree over politics, it seems. In some circles, winning political races have come to include the politics of personal destruction.
Mississippians recently read the moving story of Democratic state Rep. David Baria in Hancock County. Baria’s family lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, then lost a beloved son to illness. In a short period of time, Baria’s suffering was like that of Job. Baria’s a proud Democrat. He is also a man of incredible faith and devotion to his fellow man.
Equally ludicrous is the notion that the most conservative Republicans like Paul Ryan are “anti-Christian.” A look at civic and charitable philanthropies and at individual records of community service by some of Mississippi’s most conservative Republican partisans puts the lie to that claim.
What is lost in such incendiary rhetoric on both sides is that Republican and Democrat alike, we are all Americans. Elections should be spirited and hard fought. The voters deserve a rigorous debate and candidates should fight to support their beliefs and ideals.
Demonizing fellow Americans with whom one disagrees over matters of public policy is a product of the fact that we are as a people mostly safe, secure, free from hunger and not in fear for our lives. In good times, in safe times, Democrats and Republicans go after each other in the most blistering attacks possible.
Only after a national cataclysm like Sept. 11 do we reach across the political aisle and genuinely embrace those with whom we disagree. It is unfortunate that the old verities of American politics like loyal oppositions, bipartisan compromise and meeting in the middle have become code for personal weakness and partisan disloyalty.
We are all Americans facing an uncertain future and mired in a stagnant, volatile economy. It would seem in our best interests to find a way to pull together rather than pulling ourselves apart. I know how I’m voting, but my allegiance will be with the man the majority of my fellow Americans choose to lead this country – whether I voted for him or not.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.