Friday, October 31, 2008

Sign of the times?

In the fall of 1988, I was a newly minted college freshman, spending my first weeks living away from home at the small institution of higher living that I had chosen to further my education. Even though I was only 80 miles from my Kentucky home, I embraced the freedom of independence, an experience heightened by the fact that it was an election year. I was on a conservative-leaning campus in the middle of a conservative-leaning state, but I backed Michael Dukakis over George Bush, and took modest steps to express my choice - hanging out with similar-minded folk, putting a Dukakis sign on the door of my dorm room. And even though at that point in the fall the vice-president was starting to pull away from the Massachusetts governor in the polls, it was still a fun time for me as a young adult.

Except for the two times that my Dukakis sign was ripped off of my door. The second time, the sign was torn to pieces and strewn across the hallway. Democracy, indeed.

Of course, such acts of simple, callous vandalism have become a sad tradition of any heated political season, and the acts go both ways. But this year, as the Obama-McCain contest heads into its final hours, the incidents have become heightened in intensity and frequency. I have a friend who has had her Obama-Biden front yard sign swiped from her Indiana home twice. In Cincinnati, rock star and naturalized U.S. citizen Peter Frampton - who took the oath of loyalty to his adopted country right after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 - was so chagrined by the Obama signs that were disappearing from his lawn that he called the local paper to rant about it. And then there are the swastikas or worse being spray-painted on Obama signs and, more dire, the effigies of Obama and Sarah Palin that have been splashed across the TV and computer screens.

I won't analyze the root causes of such coarseness, partly because I try to avoid going too political on this blog and mostly because the the subject already has been analyzed to death by media figures with more time on their hands than I. But what I will say is that, in a country that so prizes its legacy of democracy and free speech, it's pretty pathetic when those who can't stand anyone who disagrees with their point of view resorts to baseless acts like these. The great thing about America is that there is a place for them as well - in rational, public discourse and debate; and, at least once a year, at the ballot box.

Of course, if the idea of criticism or disagreement is that distasteful to them, there are places they can retreat to. I hear Iran is beautiful this time of year.

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