Commentary: Name calling needs to stop, listening needs to start

The Kansas City StarSeptember 21, 2009 

"Howler monkeys."

That's how one guy in an audience full of liberals referred to town-hall conservatives at author Thomas Frank's presentation this week at the downtown Kansas City library.

Something similar happened the next day at UMKC, when a speaker on the cross-country American Liberty Tour described the Obama administration as "that corrupt machine of thugs."

Lots of name calling these days, and I'm among the guilty parties. "Wing nuts" is what I called those who objected to the president's speech to school kids.

Our mamas taught us better than to name call. Plus, it's intellectually lazy to slap labels on those with whom we disagree.

Yet that's the level of political discourse these days, isn't it?

Last week a Republican House member accused the Democratic president of being a liar. This week one of Barack Obama's predecessors, Jimmy Carter, implied that House member and other critics of being racists.

And off we all went to the comfort of our echo chambers. Conservatives to Fox and talk radio. Liberals to MSNBC and countless blogs.

Of course, Americans have been braying at each other since before that first tea party. Except things seem to be getting worse at a time when we could use some well-reasoned discourse.

Too bad about those two events I mentioned. What missed opportunities they were for left and right.

Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas?" and the Bush administration critique "The Wrecking Crew," made some great points about Republican failures in governing. But he also pointed out how Democrats had failed to address some of the right's concerns on health care.

Likewise, except for the thug remark by tour organizer Eric Odom, speakers at the American Liberty tour event seemed like decent folk worried about the growth of government.

But where were the conservatives in Frank's audience or the liberals at the American Liberty event?

Had either bothered showing up, they might have learned something — or at least had their assumptions challenged.

How we get past this insanity, where the political opposition is always a cardboard cutout cliche, I don't know.

But listening to each other now and then would be a start. That and ending the slander.

President Obama is not an evil, elite socialist. And conservatives aren't, as a rule, trigger-happy, selfish half-wits.

We're all trying to make this a better country. We just have different ideas how to go about it.

And if that sounds sappy, call me a sap. I've gotten used to it.

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