When I was much younger, my father rejoiced on the day that Richard Nixon won the 1968 election. I in an attempt to bond with my father agreed that the church bells ringing that day heralded a new beginning for our country. Many issues arose in the next four years one of them was desegregation. The use of bussing children from one school district to another had been proposed to alleviate the disparity in education that was prominent between city and suburb. I was too young to understand that there could be two sides to an argument.
When I was middle school age, I interviewed my town’s mayor… a man responsible for over a quarter of a million residents. Looking back at the transcript, I recognize that I asked this man about the issue of bussing and if such a program would ever affect our city. His answer reflected the popular notion that my classmates would take just one year later. He stated that he strongly felt that bussing was not necessary and that the citizens of our fine city need not concern themselves with something that will never occur, as it was too unpopular among the electorate.
As I grew and developed, I reached the pinnacle of middle school in time to argue over Nixon’s re-election. Our teacher assigned the class to argue over various election issues. One such issue was bussing to end segregation. As such, we were instructed to construct a pro and con debate over the issue of bussing. As children living in the suburbs less than five years removed from the riots of the sixties in the inner cities of our country, my fellow classmates did not wish to be bussed to inner city schools. I was assigned to take the position of George McGovern, of whom we were told had favored bussing. Because the Nixon position was, so popular it would have been foolish to argue that bussing my fellow classmates to the dangerous inner city neighborhoods was a correct position.
As a youngster who had attended an inner city school until halfway through grade school I was in a unique position to quell my classmate’s fears, yet two years removed from living in the city, I had succumbed to the popular notion that there must be other ways to improve conditions among disadvantaged inner city children. Nevertheless, I mounted a defense of the McGovern position by advocating that bussing would only occur when all other means of providing equal opportunity in education had been tried. In a sense, I tried to argue that McGovern was not really for bussing, and that other options were available that would more effectively mimic the Nixon position. This was not an official position of the McGovern campaign in 1972. What I had sought to do was to make the opposition’s position look as close to the more popular position that my classmates clearly favored. I was essentially convinced that Nixon’s position was the correct one. As such, I was uncomfortable at having been assigned a very unpopular plank. This was my first exercise in critical thinking, and I admit I failed but who could blame a youngster for desiring the popular position.
Today I find myself listening and reading large tracts of political speech that resembles the same capacity for thought that my middle school classmates and I exhibited in our key developmental years. This is the time when students have a great deal of trouble writing papers that ask to compare and contrast different points of view. So enamored are we of one opinion that we cannot possibly allow ourselves to see that of the opposition. I have illuminated this issue before when I have spoken of a lack of an objective viewpoint, with our national dialogue. There exists in the minds of many the correct view that leads to the greatest happiness for everyone and the opposing view that would lead to destruction of our way of life. Surely their must be a place for middle ground, but as I have read many news articles and editorial columns and watch what passes through the airwaves there is no room for compromise. As Groucho Marx sang out in “Duck Soup”… “Whatever it is I’m against it” has become the prominent political strategy of today.
Years ago, I watched the intramural collegiate tug of war at my brother and sister’s college. Each side was on the brink of exhaustion as they tugged and pulled to gain a small foothold so that eventually small incremental gains would yield a winner. In the end after many hours both sides found that, muscles were sore some even torn; sweat and mud caked the faces of all participants. To a youngster the effort seamed foolish and not of much worth. In the same way today, I see the futility of the political tug of war. Each side hoping that greater footholds will lead to total capitulation of the opposition. This may be a desirable outcome for a sporting event; but in the reality of day-to-day life, a stalemate of this nature can never be productive. We cannot afford to govern if the majority and minority parties both argue, “I am right and you are wrong.” This proposition that you are wrong becomes incendiary when one extends their argument to state not only are “you are wrong but your thinking is treasonous and will destroy our way of life.” How can any member of our country really believe that other citizens would actually rather live in chaos; that the opposition hates America so much that they would rather wallow in misery with death and destruction all around them. It is time to listen… not lash out at the opposition. The time to put away childish things is now.