Felicia Muftic: Politics brings out the best and worst in us
Is it human nature or is it just me? Are there people who bring out the best in you?
You feel good about yourself and you feel acceptance by those around you. You interact comfortably and feel that what you are saying is uplifting and positive because those around you are also uplifting and positive.
Or, have you been around people who bring out the worst in you? They encourage you to be angry and seem to give you permission to say things or do things later you know are offensive and damaging to others. For most of us, it is a passing moment. For some, who are already in emotional turmoil, there can be tragic results. They may turn their anger into violent acts.
There are politicians who bring out the best and those who bring out the worst. Both sometimes exploit this for their advantage. What comes to mind of the best is John F. Kennedy. In spite of prejudices against Catholics rampant in 1960, he won. In spite of some major mistakes, the Bay of Pigs, stalemate with Congress in getting through his agenda, we still felt that as a country we could rise above it all to become something better. He inspired generations after him to try to make our country better, as well. I would also propose that Abraham Lincoln was able to do the same thing. His Gettysburg Address was another such positive example that brought out the best that our country represents and established an ideal for future decades.
There are also politicians over the ages who brought out the worst. The most obvious example was Adolf Hitler, who played off of voters’ anti Semitism, anger with the world for Germany’s economic weakness and humiliation post World War I, and cultural super nationalism. He was able to rise to power through mostly democratic means. We have had others who have tried to do likewise in the United States. They have exploited racism, hatred or fear of foreigners, and super heated populism and nationalism. They actually made some headway in American politics. George Wallace comes to mind as a prime example. Others, fortunately for our country, have not been successful, except in the South.
The other day, something happened at political rallies featuring Sarah Palin that disturbed me greatly. Don’t get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for her skills. Her style appeals to many. She is entertaining. She is bright. She is quick on her feet and she is a quick learner. I disagree with her, but she is on the political career “success track”. I also do not mean to suggest she is a latter day Hitler or Wallace. I truly do not think she intentionally attempted to bring out racism in her audience or that she meant to exhort her audience to violence, but her delivery and message touched a nerve in some very unbalanced people. It brings out the worst for some in the audience to express what is ugly in America, especially when the shouter believes those around them are in agreement.
When Gov. Palin asked, “Who is this Obama?” as a way to raise doubts about his character and patriotism, some in the audiences shouted “terrorist” and “traitor”. When an African-American cameraman was addressed as “boy”, no one objected. When someone responded to a rhetorical question she delivered, someone said “kill him”. The only people who seemed to object at the time, assuming that Sarah Palin did not hear the shouted responses from the crowd, were the Secret Service, who are investigating the maker of the latter comments .
Polls conducted recently show that 13 percent of voters believe that Obama is a Muslim or an Arab and it appears that the crowd at the Palin appearances contained a good number of them. This is almost exactly the same percentage that appeared in polls at the beginning of the summer. Both fact check Web sites and mainstream media have not been able to find any concrete evidence that Obama is either a Muslim or an Arab. Even media and e-mails claiming to present evidence have relied on casual associations and accident of birthparents and coincidence of location to represent it as “proof”. It is obvious that some have accepted the “proof” as fact.
It took nearly a week for the Republican party or McCain surrogates to say that they did not “condone” such sentiments. It seemed at first that they did not want to turn off the passions of some of their base. It also took John McCain himself to end this approach, both at a town hall forum and by shifting his campaign’s “guilt by association” negative advertising to other subjects.
I grew up in eastern Oklahoma. I am in contact with many of my high school classmates. My age group, graduating from high school in the mid-1950s, contains many who have attitudes more typical of Appalachia or the South. I often joke that I could have written the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” because it described my hometown. I understand the depth of feeling, but I have moved on. Fortunately, I had parents who taught me to judge people by their individual worth and not by the color of their skin or their ethnic backgrounds. (One was from the multi-cultural settlers of the farm land of eastern Colorado, about which James Michener wrote so accurately in “Centennial”.).
Never underestimate the depth of racism or xenophobia in my generation. My hope is that subsequent generations have a different point of view. They have seen and admired Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and they grew up with multi-racial classmates. They see people of color who are respected and in authority on TV news casts and in advertising. They will be more likely to be immune to any appeal to racism and hatred or fear of those who are different. That truly is my source of optimism, that our country can live up to its promise of One Nation Under God.
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Winter Park Resort and Trestle Bike Park will open for the summer on Saturday, bringing back mountaintop happy hours at the Sunspot Lodge and Colorado’s longest alpine slide.