Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Extremist Rhetoric

At no time has __________ progress been more threatened than it is now. Single-minded proponents of a dangerous and extremist agenda are working feverishly to roll back every ______________ gain we’ve ever made.

The ___________, now calling the shots in the _________Party won’t back away from their radical agenda. And they are also exceedingly well funded by ________ backers . . .

It will take an unshakeable commitment from grassroots ___________ like you to guarantee our progress and to continue to move America forward.

That is an excerpt from a note I received via e-mail from a political source wanting me to donate money to support their “fight” against the evils they perceive. Fill the blanks with whichever party you wish; both parties are sending the same kind of trash.

It is irrelevant whether I agree with the conclusion drawn by those who created the e-mail solicitation. The troubling aspects of the message are: 1) the extremist language used to elicit the reader’s sympathies and support – the Subject of the e-mail was “Extremists”, 2) the lack of specific information about the kinds of evils the extremists were perpetrating upon the country, and 3) a total lack of information about what, specifically, would be done with any donation I made to their cause.

As long as such solicitations continue to bring in contributions they will be with us. If the worst that they did was draw money from donor’s pockets it would be bad enough but they have more pernicious effects. They generate and reinforce habits of distrust that are destructive of civil society. Further they encourage small-mindedness and thoughtlessness in the electorate.

We are at the point, in this country, where a segment of the population, calling itself conservative, believes that another segment, calling itself liberal or progressive, is the embodiment of evil and must be resisted at all costs. Meanwhile those who call themselves liberal or progressive believe that conservatives are dedicated to the enslavement of the working classes and the enrichment of the already wealthy. Our major media sources have lined up on one side or the other of the political battle lines, further reinforcing attitudes that divide the nation.

At a time when we should be encouraging rational discourse and decision making based on sound evidence, our political parties (and political candidates) make every effort to avoid giving specific and useful information to the citizens. We hear talk of reduced spending but no specifics about what programs will be reduced or in what ways. We hear of tax reform but precious little about what specific reforms are being proposed and what impact they would have, and upon whom. We hear calls for Constitutional amendments to balance the budget, ban abortions, prohibit gay marriage, abolish the electoral college, get rid of the Federal Reserve, abolish the personal income tax, take away the direct election of Senators, and more, but the proponents of such amendments are unwilling to discuss the effects such changes would have on our social fabric if enacted and rigorously enforced.

The e-mail solicitation that opened this essay assumes that the recipient – that would be me, in this case – is too ignorant or careless to notice that he is being asked to suspend all curiosity and judgment and cough up money to fight an unspecified evil. It deserves what it will get, a trip to the “Trash Folder”. I would hope that all others who receive such solicitations would do the same regardless of which political party they come from.

When solicitations begin to treat me as an intelligent, thoughtful, and judicious person; in other words, when they give me a rational discussion of the issue at hand, and good reasons why I should support or oppose it, then and only then will they have won the right to ask me for my money.

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