Is our political speech not much better than that of 150 years ago?

Oct. 24, 2018 | G. Michael Dobbs

Where does one draw a line when it comes to political activity today?

Many people are alarmed at the lack of civility that dominates social media.

Many people are disgusted by open displays of racism and hatred.
The idea of the peaceful protest, march or rally seems in some quarters to have been supplanted by more aggressive expression of political opinion.

Recently I read on my Facebook page a post from a friend who compared alleged incidents between “leftists” and Republicans as the type of violence Nazis did to German Jews.

When I protested, there was a response that if I didn’t condemn such events, I would be supporting them.

“Silence is consent,” I was told.

So I’m a Nazi? That’s nice.

I condemn violence against anyone in terms of the expression of free speech. No matter how disgusting or odious, if the speech doesn’t cross the line into encouraging violence we have to accept it.

We don’t have to like it.

We live in an era of hyperbole. For many people the repetition of unfounded opinion is an everyday occurrence. Cable news outlets and talk radio have obliterated the line between news and opinion.

The events at the debate at WGBY this weekend when supporters of Shiva Ayyadurai disrupted the debate between State Rep. Geoff Diehl and Sen. Elizabeth Warren seemed to follow this new time of anything-goes politics.

Independent candidates are often included in debates if poll numbers indicate a measurable level of support. The problem with Ayyadurai’s campaign is the level of vitriol it has used against Warren.

This is the candidate who has regularly used the phrase: “It takes a real Indian to defeat a fake Indian.” I can’t help but see some sort of inherent racism in the slogan, especially considering many Native Americans reject the use of the word “Indian” to describe them.

If you read about political campaigning in the 19th century or the early 20th century you realize it was a blood sport. From the intimidation of voters to outright fraud to violence, running for office 100 years ago required a thick skin and an aggressive outlook.

It wasn’t for the weak-hearted.

I think it’s so sad that we’ve regressed to the level we currently are at. Have we learned anything? The answer apparently today is “No.”

Think for a moment about what happened at WGBY. Since I was in the studio covering the debate, I had no idea what people at home were seeing, but I was told the disruption was minimized by the broadcasters. Ayyadurai did not gain anything other than creating a situation that could be seen as juvenile. He wanted to change the narrative, but didn’t. The effort of his supporters failed
Warren and Diehl exchanged viewpoints and answered questions. Carrie Saldo did a fine job as moderator. Voters who were watching had the opportunity of listening to the two candidates. Perhaps minds were changes, perhaps viewpoints were strengthened.

I just hope we can get through this phase of political hate and hyperbole as soon as possible and get back to actually trying to govern through consensus and discussion.

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