There is something to be said for social media. I’m just not sure what it is.
I signed back on to Facebook yesterday, hoping against hope that the tenor of all those political squabbles because of which I signed off in the first place might have changed. I discovered (sadly, as I feared) that some things never change. But if you watched President Obama’s victory speech on Tuesday/Wednesday, you too might have heard a statement that’s stuck with me. (And, by the way, for all those folks out there who’ve been going on and on about the “inspirational” nature of the speech: Go back and check out the one from 2008. It’s pretty much the same speech. Which is a tad worrisome. But I digress.)
The president noted that, while at times our national conversation may experience what might be called a discursive breakdown, that is in itself a sign of democracy at work, and a privilege which should be cherished. There are, he reminded us, people around the world laying down their lives “just for a chance to argue.” This is a sobering thought.
So, my Facebook friends…Fire away.
Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to Mitt Romney’s concession speech. I’ve also been hearing heart-wrenching things about this speech. For Pete’s sake…Chris Matthews, with tears in his eyes and a cowlick on his head, called it a “moment of wonder,” a great act of statesmanship. Well, okay then. For my part, I thought it was a fairly standard piece of political pleasantry. He conceded, which in itself is to be admired, given the tendency of presidential elections since 2000 to degenerate into litigious circus-acts. But the speech–sorry, nothing special.
But in the midst of the speech, he too said something which caught my ear (and which I hope was truly sincere). He said: “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.” Now, given the partisan gridlock of the last several years, the combative nature of pretty much every congressional statement made on any news network by anyone anywhere, and the fact that the exact same folks–with a few important exceptions–are back in the capitol, I find it hard to take that comment with anything but a giant grain of salt. Especially coming from the figurehead of the party that stated its purpose explicitly, not as governing the nation, but as preventing Obama from scoring a second term. But, cynical as I tend to be, I really, really, REALLY hope he meant what he was saying. Even more importantly, I hope his party, leadership and constituency, was listening when he said it. Beyond that, I hope all the Democrats out there quit their cheering and jeering long enough to hear him, too.
Over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, as our political discourse ebbs and flows, as we trade digital punches and counterpunches on Facebook and Twitter, I hope we all strive to balance these two vital features of a healthy democracy in action: the freedom to argue, and the willingness to listen. I hope that the arguments we have are on the important issues facing us all, each one of us as American citizens, and not over whether or not the president’s accent changed when he went down South. I hope we remember (myself included) that at the end of the day, when all is said and done, counting on each other must trump counting coup, that all the insults in the world never fixed an economy or got anyone a job. What moves us forward is us, plain and simple, not I but we, not my needs but yours. The US of A.