Does partisanship know no bounds? Is it impossible for liberals and conservatives to see ambiguity? Can we focus on healing the wounded, instead of hurling hurtful words at ideological 'opponents'?
In the wake of the Boston bombing, I'm afraid to say the answer to all three questions is "No."
As soon as the news broke of the awful events at the marathon, the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook lit up with theories about who was to blame. Maybe it was North Korean, Syria or Iran. Perhaps an isolated, unstable person like James Holmes, the alleged Aurora shooter. But wait, it's Tax Day in the US, and Patriots' Day. The Tea Party is calling for lower taxes and less government. That's it! It must have been the work of subversive "right wing" forces! Draw line to Timothy McVeigh. Case closed.
Really? Has our determination to politicize, polarize and polemicize every aspect of American society gone this far? I know we're all into playing the blame game, of pointing fingers, of pushing responsibility onto anyone else but ourselves. But to start pointing fingers to either side of the political spectrum in the wake of such a tragedy is irresponsible and intellectually dishonest.
The next (il)logical leap for some commentators is to not only blame so-called "right wing extremists" but to finger Conservatism itself as being reactionary, hateful and destructive. If those who are right of center weren't directly responsible, they're still on the hook, according to some. New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof tweeted, "Explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment."
Now, the bomber and his or her co-conspirators may end up being tied to an extremist group. I'm not ruling that out, but my point is this knee-jerk "look left, look right, assign blame without thinking" approach has got to stop. By demonizing right or left, and/or seeking to label a political philosophy that we don't agree with as "evil" instead of wrong-headed, is profoundly destructive. As we bemoan gridlock in Washington (Nicholas Kristof was correct about that), shake our heads as we see Republicans' and Democrats' inability to pass a solid budget and our confidence level in Congress slips further, to 13%, why are we so determined to heal kindling on the partisan fire?
The Facebook posts I read during the 2012 Presidential election are a prime example of prejudices, labeling and judgment played out in the social media sphere. If it wasn't for the vain self-promotion of my book (vain self-promotion for book alert!) I would have quit the site in the run up. Supporters of the GOP and the Dems were just as bad as each other. In some ways, the Twitter hate-fest was worse due to more frequent outbursts and anonymous profiles that further abdicate accountability. Out of the overflow of the heart, the Facebook status update and tweet speak.
How can we blame our politicians for criticizing, obstructing and ostracizing each other, when we, the ones who elect them, are just as bad? They're merely a reflection of our failings. Until we speak and type with respect, accept that it's OK in a democracy for others to hold different opinions, and stop applying irresponsible labels - "right wing," "left wing" "Communist," "fascist," "Nazi" - government won't get better. And neither will we.