A troubling parallel

A troubling parallel

In his Wednesday New York Times column, Thomas Friedman puts into words an ominous feeling that has been spreading like swine flu: that there’s a “poisonous political environment” akin to that leading to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.

“The parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach,” he writes. It’s not that he has a “problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening.”

We agree. That “something” began happening during the presidential election of 2000, when the “united states” began fracturing into red states and blue states.

Of course, it happened before. The colors were different: The North was blue and the South was gray. But the venom was the same – and the outcome must not be.

During the last two election seasons – but why stop there? During any election season – Americans were pitted against each other by cynical politicians, bloggers, and assorted radio and television “personalities” pursuing their own ends and not caring what damage they did.

“What kind of madness is it,” Friedman asks, “that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, ‘Should Obama be killed?’ The choices were: ‘No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.’ The Secret Service is now investigating,” Friedman notes. “I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.”

Something was let loose – in Rabin’s case, in Obama’s case, in all of our cases – that must be put back in Pandora’s box: a vitriolic, adversarial stance that does not allow for civil debate, that cannot result in consensus – or even, we might say, in governance. And that might, in a worst-case scenario, culminate in tragedy.

“Our leaders, even the president,” Friedman writes, “can no longer utter the word ‘we’ with a straight face. There is no more ‘we’ in American politics at a time when ‘we’ have these huge problems – the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – that ‘we’ can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective ‘we’ at work.”

After all, we’re in this together.