My Reason to Rally4Sanity: Donkeys, Elephants, Hedgehogs & Woodpeckers Get Along Just Fine

On October 30th 2010, I'm going to Washington DC to participate in the Rally to Restore Sanity and it seemed the reasonable thing to do is to think through my reasons for participating. This is the second in a series of posts called "My Reason To Rally4Sanity", where I'll take a look at the lack of a real political ideological divide and any other topics that seem reasonable.

I have friends that call themselves Democrats, others that call themselves Republicans, others that are self identified Independents, and even a few self proclaimed Libertarians. I don't know any Tea Party members yet, but that doesn't mean much; I haven't gotten out much lately.

Now listening to our politicians, news anchors, and pundits you would think that if you put a heterogeneous (if you think that means "gay", please click on the link, you're going to miss the point) group of them together they would:
    Wikimedia Commons user Coldbourne
  1. Violently disagree on every phrase spoken
  2. Probably require a trip to the hospital because one of them stabbed another with a salad fork over a dispute on deficit spending.
Don't believe me? Just look at the political ads running on TV and the vigor with which candidates demonize each other, often without a shred of truth to their words.  Fear, distrust and hate, even when completely fabricated, are easy to cultivate and powerful motivators at the ballot box.

There is no civility in our civil discourse... Or is there?

On multiple occasions I've gotten together with a politically heterogeneous group of friends. Initially, they recognized their labeled differences of Democrat and Republican and attempt to avoid talking about politics for fear of a salad fork incident.  But over the past few months I've actively tried forcing a discussion. I just kept bringing things up and got them talking to see what would happen. They begrudgingly started talking about budgets, the deficit, foreign policy, US drug policy, etc.

The conversations (usually economic based) always starts the same way. The Democratic friends would accuse the Republican friends of wanting to use poor people as Soylent Green and the Republican friends would suggest that the Democratic friends should sell all their belongings and give their entire net worth to a homeless person.

But we press on and pretty soon we were all talking about actual facts:
  • How much the country spent on different areas,
  • Types of income the goverment had to fund our spending,
  • How the tax system worked at different income levels,
  • What income level we were at compared to the majority of the US population,
  • What impact the decisions around Social Programs, Drug Policy, foreign Policy etc., have on all of the above.
As the discussion evolved I noticed something I didn't expect: we agreed on most points. To listen to the pundits and politicians, these conversations should have been vitriolic shouting matches with only hatred and disdain as common ground, but that's not what I saw.

I saw civil discourse. I consistently saw recognition that the problems were complicated and intertwined, that all parties brought a useful perspective to the conversation, and that they pretty quickly started agreeing most of the time.

Fun President Blog
To be honest, the only topic we couldn't find common ground on was unrelated to politics. When it comes to toilet paper installation, people seem incapable of compromise. (Editors Note:  There is no debate.  B is the correct way to install the toilet paper roll.)

But when it came to politics, these people that claim to support ideologies we've come to think of as incompatible, talked, debated, and compromised. I even saw some of them physically uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance that was being caused by agreeing with someone from "the other party." And yet, their ideas were so similar there was little room to argue.

Democrats and Republicans, listening, debating, compromising, and agreeing. Civil discourse.

I've come to learn from actually talking with people that whether your party's mascot is a donkey, elephant, hedgehog, woodpecker or warm beverage, you're probably more alike than different.

Today our countries discourse is overrun by extremists who use trickery and fear to divide us from our fellow citizens to the point where we are afraid to even discuss politics in polite company. And they do this because they know if citizen "Hedgehogs" and "Woodpeckers" start talking to each other, we'd realize that we have more ideologically in common with each other than with all the fear mongering politicians, news anchors, and pundits.

So, this weekend I'm going to the Rally to Restore Sanity because I think it's vital to our country's health and even survival that we take it down a notch and start to talk to each other in a real civil discourse.