Over the past three months, someone close to me had to go to the hospital and it was a hectic time. During the interval, I had time to reflect on our relationship and I appreciate the many talks we used to have on life and politics. He is a bit more conservative than I am, so we tend to argue about the merits of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. But he has always had a respect for differences of opinion, and he’s always respected my right to think for myself. It’s something that I cherish and try to live up to in my own life.
These past few years I haven’t had many of those respectful type conversations with conservatives. They’ve tended to be two monologues running past each other, rather than dialogues where there is an exchange of ideas. During my teen years and into my twenties, I used to have conservative friends whom I used to be able to have conversations about politics where there was still a respect for the other person. That changed sometime in the mid to late 1990s. I’m not sure what happened. The type of conservative people that I met during the later 1990s tended to be less tolerant of differences of opinion than the one I met as a younger man. From their point of view, anyone who was liberal was anti-Christian or unAmerican and there was no way any opinions that I would try to express would be respected or taken seriously.
These past few years, I’ve gotten into some exasperating conflicts. I’m not really sure why some people think it’s o.k. to harass individuals who have opposing opinions and to try to intimidate individuals to make them afraid of exercising their freedom of speech. As Americans, we all have the right to express our own political opinions. I think that’s why I’m bothered so much by the political climate of today, where hyper partisanship rules and the Tea Party are pushing for uncompromising conservative politicians in the Republican Party. The gridlock and bad blood in Congress between conservative Republicans and the Democrats is bad in the long run for this country. I don’t think being a conservative Republican is bad. But I do think the intolerance of different opinions that I see on the Far Right is a very bad thing.
Though I criticize conservatives for this, I do not think they alone are guilty of this. I think this tendency is just one of the flaws of human nature. During the 1960s, radical leftist students would often shout down speakers who held different points of view. I think anytime a group sees things in black and white terms and thinks their way is the only way to do things, then that group will inevitably feel the need to impose their beliefs on everyone else. In history, you see this tendency manifest itself with Robespierre and the Reign of Terror, with Torquemada and the Inquisition, with McCarthy and the Red Scare of the 1950s, with Mao’s Cultural Revolution and with Stalin’s purges. It’s the danger of groupthink. I had an experience of groupthink in the 1990s when I attended an evangelical church.
The reason that the freedom of speech is important is that no one person is omniscient. It’s important to have a diversity of opinions in the market of ideas so that these ideas can be argued over and the strengths and weaknesses of these ideas can be tested. That’s why democracies, messy as they are, are ultimately stronger than dictatorships. We’re all human. I’ve met conservatives who are real jerks. But I’ve also met conservatives who are really kind and thoughtful individuals. Most liberals I know are nice. But I’ve met my share of liberals who aren’t so nice and are rather mean. Experience has taught me that there are certain people whom it is safe to be friends with and to have honest exchanges of opinions. And there are certain people that it is better to avoid.
For a democracy to function well, there should be some respect for a diversity of opinions. People can disagree and still be friends. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were close friends even though Jefferson was an ardent Republican and Adams was a strong Federalist. Conservative Ronald Reagan and liberal Tip O’Neil were friends in the 1980s. Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda were best friends even though Stewart was a conservative Republican and Fonda was a New Deal liberal. Conservative Orrin Hatch and liberal Ted Kennedy were closer friends who collaborated on many bills that really helped America. I end this blog with a quote from Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address:
During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety.
But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.
A youtube video of Gabrielle Giffords returning to the House for a vote
A youtube video of the friendship of Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Ted Kennedy
A youtube video of the friendship of Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton
A youtube video of a scene from the HBO series “John Adams” about the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
If you enjoy this cartoon, take a look at these links for more of my political cartoons at Everyday Citizen. You could also join my Jasper the Cat facebook page.
Jasper Writes A Blog
Conversations During The Holidays
Jasper and the Cop
The Parents Visit the Occupation
Cartoons About Occupy Wall Street
Jasper and the Moderate Republican
Obama and the Republicans
Jasper And the Homeless Veteran
Jasper Celebrates the 4th of July
Jasper Meets Howard Zinn
Jasper and the Nature Poem
Government and the Market Economy
Jasper Joins Two Protests
Bob the Nerd Vampire
Jasper Debates War
Jasper Finds His Way Home
Jasper Escapes the Detention Center
Jasper At A Detention Center
Jasper Meets a Poet
Jasper Tackles Health Care
Jasper Protests the War
Jasper and the Economy
Jasper Sings a Protest Song
The Road To Health Care Reform Cartoon
A Cartoon about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
A Cartoon about My Experience in an Evangelical Church
A Cartoon about Political Debate
A Cartoon On Gay Marriage