George Bush did it too me. I am an independent of the left persuasion. As the first term of the Bush administration wore on (and on and on), I went from concerned to angry. I could no longer take the liberty with which the president was taking our liberty and abusing this nation.
Finally it was Abu Graib that got to me. I wrote my first letter to the editor–ever, in my life. Since then there has been a presidential campaign, more abuses of our civil liberties, more machinations of a corrupt congress, more depredations of a brilliantly corrupt rightwing movement in this country. And more letters to the editor.
I often feel like a lonely voice - well, not that melodramatic. Actually I feel like a scold. I don’t imagine that my letters or this blog will make a difference to those who make the decisions on the issues I write about. But since it seems that journalism has forgotten its once proud “creed of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” it is up to the rest of us to take up the slack.
One thing I have noticed since becoming an occasional presence on the editorial page: people notice and people care. My local paper is a medium-sized-town paper. As a platform for effecting change it is limited at best. But when people tell me that they saw a letter and thank me for expressing what they are thinking but cannot for some reason say I am still surprised.
It doesn’t surprise me that they feel they are not eloquent enough, that is common. What surprises me is the idea that writing letters that criticize the state of the nation is an act of courage. Put another way: there is the idea that by exercising my right to free speech I am showing courage.
Being neither courageous nor militant that notion floors me every time I hear it. It says more about the state of things, the state of our discourse, our politics, even our democracy that the very idea of using my guaranteed right to speak out is thought of as an act of bravery.
But of course that is what the last decade has been all about. It has been about making entertainment out of quashing dissent. Rightwing radio has hammered the point home with blowhard talk show hosts that love the sound of their own screaming voices so much that they silence their so-called guests.
Our own president’s view that any disagreement with his way is near to treason adds to the climate of fear that has been seeping into the main stream of American discourse. And his willing executioners–the vice president and other national party leaders all stand solidly behind him– smearing, sliming and shouting down any who would dare to disagree.
Still I do not call this an act of courage. I call it an act of exasperation, of anger. And it is time to make a contagion of it.