Second Thought: Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Uncivil Discourse

Bush has increased the amount of political discussion — and its decibel level.


Emotions are running high in this year’s election. It has gotten to the point that if I find out that someone is a staunch Bush supporter, I refuse to talk to them about politics for fear that we will end up rolling on the floor, pulling each other’s hair out, arguing about Vietnam and the National Guard, and calling each other silly names. And I’m afraid that, the way things are going, the same thing is going to happen in the presidential debates.

My own hesitancy to discuss the presidential campaign with a person of unknown political persuasion was revealed to me on a recent flight from Las Vegas. Our return to Texas from that wonderful end-of-summer jaunt was brought to a screeching halt by an incredibly powerful force, a factor stronger than the weather, capable of single-handedly delaying thousands of airline passengers by simply entering the airport. It was not an escaped lion or a bomb threat or someone smuggling in a stapler that put the Las Vegas airport at a standstill. It was none other than George W. Bush, cruising in for a two-hour campaign stop. His flight left exactly according to schedule. Unfortunately for us commoners, all the other planes in the airport were forced to wait until he had safely flown away before being released from the limbo of airport terminals.

Even before Dubya arrived, our flight had been posted as delayed, meaning it would be hard for us to catch our connecting flight in Phoenix. Thinking that we could change our reservations to a direct flight to DFW, my husband and I waited for half an hour in line to get to a room labeled Passenger Assistance. Foolishly, we thought this would be a place where the airline staff would assist passengers. Instead, a very rude woman named Pat assured us that the connecting airports, aware of the situation, would take the Presidential Pause into consideration, and that we would certainly make our flight. Three hours later, we were still sitting on the tarmac, wriggling in our cramped seats waiting for Air Force One to leave, as our connecting flight headed toward DFW.

As we sat on the runway, the guy in the next seat turned to my husband and asked if we thought Bush would be re-elected. We certainly had a thing or two to say about Bush, and to top it all off, now he’d made us miss our connection. But who wants to sit trapped for two hours talking politics with a potentially hostile seatmate? I envisioned tray tables used as clubs, or perhaps being forced to use the airsickness bag if the guy’s politics were overly revolting. So my husband and I both mumbled that we didn’t know and quickly buried our noses in books.

Later, as we endured another five-hour wait in the Phoenix airport for the next flight to DFW, my husband and I laughed about how frightening it is to discuss politics with strangers these days. In the last few months I have seen several civilized conversations deteriorate into near-shouting matches with both parties ready to strangle each other when it is revealed that one person is a Bush supporter and one is not.

It is almost physically impossible for me to write the words “Bush” and “good” in the same sentence, but here we go. One thing that George W. Bush is very good at is giving people something to say. This does not necessarily mean that these things are well thought out, nor does it mean that the people arguing make good points. There are such strong feelings on both sides of the aisle that it has gotten to the point that we cannot even comprehend each other’s point of view anymore. Kerry supporters and ABBAs (Anybody But Bush Again) can list countless reasons that Bush should not be re-elected. I assume that Bush supporters have their reasons for supporting him, although in the conversations I’ve had with them, it seems they just quickly resort to calling Kerry a “flip-flopper” or whatever line the national media happens to be spouting about Kerry that day.

So many people feel so strongly about the importance of this election that political feelings have become visceral. I don’t think it is healthy for us — as individuals or as a nation — to live with this much emotional turmoil.

As the protests keep piling up and the arguments keep straying from what should be the issues, let’s all try to keep in mind (remind me if I forget) that we are all Americans, and that we probably share more common ground than we think. (I know if I think a while the shared beliefs will come to me. Gravity, maybe. We can all believe in gravity, right?)

Katherine Ortega Courtney is a graduate student in psychology at Texas Christian University.

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