Commentary: We can disagree without being enemies

The State (Columbia, S.C.)October 14, 2012 

It's natural for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to fiercely compete for the highest office in the land, but the day they become enemies who work at cross purposes and choose to do anything to win the presidency, losing sight of the America we pledge to be “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” we’re in trouble — all of us.

I don’t care what your political persuasion is or what the color of your skin might be or how different your ideology is from the man next door, we must understand that we are not one another’s enemy.

Believe it or not, Mitt Romney is not the devil. Neither is President Obama. Neither are Democratic and Republican opponents vying for congressional, State House or county council seats.

The adversarial tone set by elected and political leaders has poisoned not only our local and state politics but even our local discourse. Some have come to look at people they see almost daily in their community as adversaries because they vote differently or because they have a different philosophy about the role of government.

But your black, white, Hispanic and Asian neighbors and co-workers aren’t your enemies. So your neighbor or co-worker is a so-called liberal and you’re a so-called conservative. So what?

Yes, we have cultural, political and even religious differences. But no, we Americans are not enemies. Absolutely not. Enemies seek the demise — even the extinction — of their foes. If that’s what America has come to — and, we have come dangerously close — what kind of future does it truly have?

Frankly, we’ve got enough enemies, foreign and domestic. Lest we forget, al-Qaida has a way of reminding us of that fact, as it apparently did in Benghazi, Libya. Domestically, our enemies range from crime to poor education to poverty to poor health care. We have a tremendous challenge trying to overcome our addiction to debt.

It will take the undivided attention of a unified America to deal with these critical matters. Sure, we have different ideas about how to attack them.

But here’s the thing: We’ve got the knowledge, resources and ideas to address many of these problems. But we don’t have the politicians with enough courage and willingness to work together to make it happen. Some work against good legislation so the opposing party doesn’t get credit or a political advantage; others shy away from compromise because of threats from extreme elements in their own party.

Meanwhile, the national debt grows, children go uneducated or undereducated, health care costs skyrocket.

But, anymore, opposing parties won’t do anything to move this country forward if it’s not exactly what they want. Some on Capitol Hill are so entrenched they refuse to compromise to deal with the nation’s debt. They would rather fall headlong over a fiscal cliff.

Where did this all-or-nothing, do-or-die attitude come from?

Many people say America is going down the tubes and needs to be fixed, but their answer invariably includes getting rid of everyone who doesn’t see things their way.

I’m convinced that Republicans and Democrats can be opponents without being enemies. They can disagree on how to resolve the deficit or fix Medicare without pledging the eternal doom of the other.

Similarly, people across our diverse America, regardless of their race, creed or color, can get along. Yes, race is still an issue despite the strides we’ve made. Sit down and deal with it. Immigration is a critical issue that we must address. Address it.

But we must do so in civil, pragmatic ways. Instead, we yell at one another and do nothing but allow problems to fester because we allow extremists and opportunists to frame the debates and squeeze out the sensible middle.

Every day in schools across the land and at the beginning of governmental meetings we pledge to be “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Yet our political rhetoric and actions often don’t reflect “one nation” that is “indivisible.” And it’s certainly not “under God”: The Bible identifies the enemy as the devil in 1 Peter 5:8. It also tells us in Ephesians 6:22 that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

So why is it that — whether in national, state or local politics — we find some of the most mean-spirited, hateful and divisive language directed at fellow Americans? We’ve heard GOP politicians anxiously anticipate President Obama’s “Waterloo,” a Democratic operative suggest a political strategy designed to “kill Romney” and both sides accuse one another of “class warfare.”

And what of this unrelenting cry, “take our country back”? Take it back where? Back to the 1960s or even the 1860s?

Count me out.

We must end this era of personal, hateful politics that poisons public discourse, sows seeds of division among neighbors and frays our republic. We have found far too many enemies next door or around the corner or on the other side of the track or two cubicles down.

Shall we remain a house divide? Or shall we live out the true meaning of the pledge to be “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?

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