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When Should We Speak?

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From "The Daily Narrative"

www.hlgoodall.com

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here's a scenario. Let's say you and your significant other are out for a pleasant drive and you see a sign advertising a British Classic Car Show. You are on Cape Cod, it is early October, warm enough for the windows to be open and the top down and the colorful leaves are beginning to change the landscape from summer to fall. You park. You walk admire the vintage MGs, Triumphs, Jags, a superior Corniche, a few minis and a truly odd all-mahogany boat-tailed low-rider custom built on an MGB frame, complete with full wheel covers. It is a pleasant day and a friendly crowd. Then this guy, who appears to be an otherwise ordinary white male in his mid-fifties, blurts out "Don't get me started about politics! Don't talk to me about the past eight years, either. Obama is a socialist. We've got to take back our country." He winks, conspiratorially. "I'm a Tea Partier."

Let's say you are a Progressive. Let's say you think the Tea Party, led by Glenn Beck and funded by the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey, is both dangerous and wrong. All those ridiculous agitprop posters at their rallies make you cringe.

Let's further say that while you have had differences with Obama you basically believe we are far better off with him at the helm than we would be with any of the assortment of con-men, genuine dumb-asses and con women on the other side, all either running for office now or lining up for 2012. Obama is no socialist. He can't see Alaska from his front porch; he hasn't tied the family dog to the roof of his car while driving from Massachusetts to Michigan; nor has he, as certain Teapublican candidates for Congress have recently done, had to deny being a witch or admitted to having enjoyed playing dress-up on weekends in a Nazi uniform.

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So what do you say? Or do you say anything? Is this the time or the place for this sort of defense of the president? These appear to be nice people out to enjoy the fine weather and share stories and memories about classic British cars. Plus, this guy is seated alone. No one seems to want to be within listening distance of him. No one else has enjoined the conversation or openly sided with him. You could leave well enough alone. You could remain silent.

To speak, or not to speak, "that is the question."

There are three problems associated with remaining silent. First is the assumption he has made that you are on his side. Left unchecked, others, too, will see that your silence is a kind of public consent. We know from research done on propaganda as long ago as the 1930s that extremist discourse relies on division, suspicion and fear. Divide Jews from Protestants (or define "loyal Americans," "Believers in Liberty" and "Patriots" from the undefined rest of us); suggest that we should be suspicious of Jewish bankers (or of Muslims or Progressives and Liberals or Mexicans); paint ominous scenes of massive job losses, far-ranging economic peril, small business failures and cast doubt on our ability to defend ourselves from foreigners, gypsies, immigrants and/or socialists/Communists; blame it all on "the Other" (e.g., President Obama and the Democrats) and you have created the Perfect Storm for Propaganda. Should you remain silent in public when doing so brings with it these historical and cultural associations?

The second problem is your own conscience. Do you feel that gnawing sense of guilt? That acidic bile arising from inner conflict, like something bad stuck in your throat? That hard-to-shake-off sense that you should have said something? That, while it's true that discretion may be the better part of valor, being discrete sometimes make you feel like a coward?

So what to do?

I recommend that you consider a range of possible responses. At one end of this "speakable" continuum is the simple and straightforward statement: "With all due respect, I disagree. And I prefer not to engage in a political discussion on this otherwise splendid day." Fair enough. Only a lout or bully would argue against that stance. It's a free country. You don't have to engage in debate to let those around you know that your refusal to do so represents an appropriate response.

Or you could ask some questions. For example, "Define socialism." I have found that most people on the right sprinkle that term over a leftie as if it were salt to an open wound. It has also been my experience that most people have no idea what the term truly means. Let's begin with the basics: A socialist doesn't believe in private property. If Obama is a socialist, why on earth would he bail out the banks and stop home foreclosures?

Of course you could also say, "I, too, am a socialist. And proud of it." End of discussion. Although it hardly ever ends there. Instead I have witnessed my socialist friends then launch into a critique of capitalism, which these days is kind of like knowing a great deal about innovations in Oldsmobiles . Nobody really cares, except those who do. And they don't need convincing.

Progressives, as a rule, do not hate capitalism. What we hate is unrestrained capitalism. Free enterprise is one thing. Unrestrained free enterprise, fully equipped with deregulation and a right wing campaign to convince Americans that all taxes are bad and that limited government will protect us from greed and that led to the current economic collapse, high unemployment and home foreclosures is quite something else. Like most people, we aspire to a better life and we work hard to ensure a better life--a sustainable economy and a sustainable planet--for our children.

Toward the middle of the spectrum of possible responses, then, we have the polite, but reserved engagement strategy that begins with reasonable claims, supports them with appropriate evidence and then asks for the humbled listener's assent to that which makes perfectly good sense. In my experience with Tea Partiers that won't happen. For among denizens of that political camp reason, itself, is a strategy deployed by the "ruling elite" against the masses and it is just another way in which well-educated and articulate persons oppress those who didn't do so well in college. Their response is anger, supported with a louder voice and somewhere in their bleating complaint will come a challenge to your patriotism. Reasoning with right-wingers is a waste of time. Fox Republican Entertainment provides them with talking points that in their minds don't require evidence or even truth to be on their side.

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H. L. (Bud) Goodall, Jr. lives in Arizona where he is a college professor and writer. He has published 20 books and many articles and chapters on a variety of communication issues. His most recent books include Counter-Narrative: How Progressive (more...)
 

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I suffer from the malady which you attempt to cure... by Michael Bonanno on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 1:36:56 PM
Thanks, Michael, for the kind words. You are corr... by Bud Goodall on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 4:04:40 PM
A few years ago Sean Hannity was doing his radio s... by Jeff Poster on Thursday, Oct 21, 2010 at 10:15:03 PM
The revolution is over and the oligarchy rules. Ar... by Mike Preston on Friday, Oct 22, 2010 at 7:26:26 PM