A comedian told a joke once about how so often, when he paused to reflect on his life thus far, he realized what a jerk he had been about five years ago. After doing this several times over the course of a few decades (realizing that five years prior he had been quite the jerk), it finally dawned on him that he's more than likely being quite the jerk right now. That's why older people tend to be more quiet, he said. They've figured this out.
I think of that joke every time I catch myself in a position I had never imagined I would be back when George W. Bush was the President. Back then, I was convinced....convinced mind you....that GWB was not only the worst president the country had ever seen, ripping apart the very fabric of our democracy with his executive over-reach and arguably criminal wartime actions, but perhaps even evil enough to seize the power needed (or stage some national crisis) to get himself back into office for a third term, and perhaps more. He's stage a coup if he had to, I was nearly convinced.
I remember truly believing he was as close to a dictator as any president we had ever had and that he represented a real threat to our way of life. It was horrible to watch from my blog-and-Sunday-Morning-news-chat-show perspective. There in real time was the dismantling of the American experiment, to be replaced by a living Orwellian nightmare.
But then, of course, in 2009, George W. Bush vacated the White House, calmly permitting a member of the opposition party to take up residence there. Yes, the damage had been done, but Bush had exited...his reign was over.
Today when I hear the kind of rhetoric coming out of respected conservative quarters about President Obama, I recognize my own feelings about Bush 6 years ago. I realize that as insanely over-dramatic as they're being about Obama, I had been about Bush, and that if they're jerks now, that means I was a jerk then.
But what to do with that epiphany has not yet become clear to me. I don't believe I should have simply sat quiet while Bush misled the country into a costly war. I don't believe I was wrong to march and protest the horrendous Homeland Security Department's formation or the anti-American "Patriot Act." And, as I wrote frequently in this blog, I still think Bush should stand trial for war crimes,
particularly for authorizing torture, even though I'm no longer sure there are three
6's tattooed on his forehead.
And so perhaps the point of my epiphany was to realize that those opposed to Obama's policies should speak up as well. It's not only their right, it's essential if our democracy is going to creep forward. God knows I don't know everything. Obama doesn't know everything. What if, from our mutual vantage point on the questions most hotly contested issues (healthcare, banking regulations, taxing toward a more sensible level of income equality), we are...gasp...mistaken. Opposing view points help keep each side more honest and encourage more carefully developed policies.
If there was no opposition to, for example, The Patriot Act, how much more limitation would a shaken government have placed on civil liberties than they did? Not that I was even remotely happy with the outcome. Just that it could have been (and without protests probably would have been) much worse.
And so, as Teams Obama and Romney begin flinging the mud in earnest, I steady myself for a noisy, noisy campaign season. The only thing I'll humbly remind those inclined to join in the ruckus is to remember that some day, about 5 years from now, you'll probably have an opportunity to reflect on your behavior during this period. It will, I'm sure, be refreshing to discover that you hadn't actually been that much of a jerk.