Withhold your cheers… and your money, and your votes

Editor’s Note: The following column was written by former Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon on Aug. 10, 2009.

Democracies can do the wrong thing, just as more authoritarian governments can. The policies of a democracy will be no smarter, no less selfish, no more fair, and no more courageous than the people of the country.

It is because of this exact relation between the character of the people and the actions of a democratic government that the current debate on health care is so horrifying.

I was a member of the Colorado General Assembly for sixteen years. I am an extreme supporter of respectful debate and disagreement. I had many disputes with other Democrats who objected to some of my efforts to treat the Republicans with respect. “They didn’t do that for us when we were in the minority,” I would hear.

“And when they treated us disrespectfully, we thought it was wrong,” I would respond.

People of good faith who treat each other with respect can solve problems. People who do not listen to each other with respect, and do not act in good faith cannot.

The other day Rush Limbaugh compared the democratic health care proposals to Hitler’s policies. Sarah Palin said that the Obama proposal calls for people to be interviewed by “death panels” to decide if they should get treatment. She called the proposals for health care reform “evil.”

There have been countless stories about the Obama administration wanting the death of seniors so that the health care proposals will cost less. The stories have been debunked, by those who actually know, but people continue to circulate them because they are attracted to calumnies of this sort regardless of whether they are true.

It is routine for people who disagree with Obama to call him a socialist or a fascist.

In my email from last week I criticized both Rush Limbaugh and Randi Rhodes. I assert that it is wrong for either a Democrat or a Republican to make these arguments personal. The country cannot be governed by either side if the opponents abandon truth and respect.

The United States will fail if the people in power do not listen to each other and think that the other side is “evil.” And the people in power mirror the people in the streets.

Do any of you feel that it is ever justified to shout down others in a town meeting?

Most Americans are Christians. What would Christ have done?

How did we get to this point? Someone answer this for me. Democrats and Republicans have worked together countless times in our history for the benefit of the country. Yet it isn’t happening now.

The zealots on either side think that their goal is to beat the other party.

It is not.

The goal is to govern the country and participate in the world community in a way that maximizes education, prosperity, health, justice and freedom. In that project the zealots are failing and helping to cause our country to fail.

I saw a fragment of a movie on television today. It was “The Man in the Iron Mask.” It was a movie with the same characters as “The Three Musketeers.” At the end when Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan were about to fight against overwhelming odds they put their swords together and said, “All for one and one for all.”

It made me sad because I have been listening to discussions of public policy in the United States and I don’t hear people expressing any sentiment that isn’t selfish, close-minded, cynical or hateful.

“All for one, and one for all,” may have been a more or less accurate description of the United States when we confronted real fascists during World War II. It may have approximately described the United States during the Cold War.

It does not describe us now.

The people of the United States need to appreciate the necessity of respectful debate and they need to withhold their support and votes from leaders who do not engage in good faith.

We have to stop playing the small game of partisan politics, because the big game will determine our health, our prosperity, the condition of the planet and whether our children die in wars. We are neglecting the big game because we our stuck in the small game.

I don’t care if you are a Democrat, a Republican, or something else, if your elected officials spend their time bashing members of the other party, do not cheer them on.

Withhold your cheers… and your money, and your votes.

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