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How to Deal with the Pathological Spirit on the Right?: Sharing My Dilemma

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Once a month, I appear on the radio in Virginia, talking politics with an audience that is substantially right wing.  At least, if one were to judge from the sample of the people who call in, one would conclude that the majority of the people are among that group --a minority in America at large-- who still approved of Bush when he left office, who think Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are reliable sources of political information and insight. 

And given that this area voted 2:1 for McCain, that sample that calls in is probably tilted only somewhat further to the right-wing than the roughly 10,000 people who listen, unheard, to the exchange between the callers and me that goes out over the radio airwaves.

So, as I say, I'm on the radio trying to do something constructive in interaction with these Bushites for two hours a month.  But that "once a month" doesn't begin to capture how much of the time I'm in "conversation" with these people-- in my head.  Every day, many times a day, I think about these right-wing folks, and I struggle to gain insight into how I might most fruitfully engage with them.

I stew about this challenge for a couple of reasons.

First, it's difficult.  Hardly anywhere in the country can one find successful communication across this political divide.

Second, it matters.  Not that I mistake my particular piece of the larger picture for the whole thing.  But the larger picture of what's happening on the right, and the difficulty (if not futility and impossibility) of bridging this divide is important to the future of our country.

It matters whether America's conservative party, and its followers, remain possessed by the dark spirits that continue to hold them in its grip.  

And so I take seriously my particular piece of this big picture.  However big or small, this radio show is the one place where I get an opportunity to engage with that dark spirit.  And perhaps there's some way to do something constructive, perhaps to help some people escape from their bondage to a force that operates by the lie and that does all it can to sow strife and undermine all forms of Wholeness.

Many on the liberal/left side of our political divide, I know, would just write these people off.  They're beyond hope, they feel, and they should just be overpowered and defeated on the field of political battle.  The "Eliminationists" on the right are matched by --perhaps have given rise to-- a corresponding impulse on the left.

I don't want to write them off.  

For one thing, most of those people among the 30 percent or so of Americans who are in the grip of the darkness on the right, are not such bad or broken people as would warrant giving up on them.  Encountered in non-political contexts, many of these people are remarkably decent, not less good neighbors and friends than those on the other side of the divide.  They've been captured by a leadership that, in the political arena, brings out their worst side.  

And surely, where change is possible, it would be irresponsible to leave them to the forces of darkness.  

But there's an even bigger reason.  The importance of the effort is not just, or even mainly, for their sakes.  For the sake, rather, of America.

The America we should strive for is one where our major political forces are able to work together on the basis of shared values to achieve common purposes.  The America we have now is one where one side is committed to politics purely as warfare, and is so irresponsibly dishonest that we cannot even discovered a shared reality in which to make use of the values we share and the purposes we'd all benefit from achieving.

American politics has always had its partisan "warfare" dimension.  But rarely, if ever, has there been a political party so wholly in the grip of the spirit of combat and division.  Rarely has a party's ratio of demagogery to responsible political discourse been so high.

It is our duty to work to change this America into the kind of country we need for it to be.  And pivotal to that effort is addressing the largely decent people who are in thrall to those lying, war-loving forces that gave us the Bushite presidency and now give us the crazy oppositionalism that has greeted Obama's presidency from the right.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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