One of my Facebook friends asked a question yesterday. He said, “Somebody help me here. Didn’t Reagan and H.W. Bush make speeches at the outset of school years? Why the uproar over Obama doing the same thing?”
The first few responses were positive. People said things like, “Good question” or, “Yes, that’s true” or, “I don’t know what the uproar is about.” But very quickly a fight broke out on Facebook, with some people affirming the President’s right to speak to children in our country’s public schools while others made comparisons to George Orwell’s “1984″ and the educational policies of Adolf Hitler and Chairman Mao. 26 comments later my friend wrote, “I think I’m going to wait a while before I ask another political question.”
It seems to be that way these days, that you can’t ask a political question without starting a political fight, and the fights that break out seem to break out along party lines. It’s as if we’ve chosen up sides, put on our red and blue uniforms, and gone to war with each other. It’s a civil war, but there is nothing civil about it.
The rhetorical attacks against our current president have been especially vicious, but long before Barack Obama people were ridiculing the person and policies of George W. Bush. When did we get like this? And how? Who told us it was OK to disrespect the office of the president of the United States?
Talk radio, that’s who.
I don’t listen to talk radio as a rule, but the few times I’ve tuned in I have been shocked by the vitriol ( vit-ri-ol, noun: something highly caustic or severe in effect, as criticism) that pours out of my speakers. And every attack leads to a counterattack, so that even without touching the dial on my radio the volume and intensity of the debate goes up, whether there is someone actually there in the studio or the talk show host is only reacting to what he has read and heard from “the other side.” I feel my blood pressure going up when I listen to talk radio, my grip tightening on the steering wheel, and I wonder how it would affect me if I listened all the time.*
What if we treated our brains like we treated our stomachs, and tried to put only good things in there? What if we did “touch that dial,” and tuned in to a classical music station or listened to a good book on tape (maybe even the Good Book)? It’s there, in the Good Book, that you find Paul saying, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
I wonder how our public discourse might change if we did that.
*Incidentally, my dad had a fender-bender a few years ago, and when I asked him how it happened he confessed, sheepishly, that he had been listening to talk radio at the time.