Listen to Your Enemy and You Might Just Be Surprised

I am a Republican, and proud of it. My party opposed slavery (Lincoln), aggressively busted trusts (Theodore Roosevelt), promoted civil rights (the 1964 Civil Rights Act received an average of 80% of Republican but only 65% of Democrat house and senate votes), and championed conservation (Theodore Roosevelt) and the environment (Nixon proposed the EPA and signed an executive order creating it). 

Since the 1980s, however, I've heard an endless stream of rhetoric claiming that Republicans hate women and minorities, are champions of big business, and don't care about the poor, the sick, or the environment.  This doesn't sound like me or any other Republican I know, but people who seem to have certain knowledge assure me this is the case.

If I cared to do so, I could come up with an equally certain and damning indictment of the Democrat party.  The urge to counter what I perceive as an unremitting attack on me and others equally wronged is almost irresistible.  The words are there. I can feel the truth of them like blood in the back of my throat.  Anticipating comments disputing the GOP accomplishments I listed above, I want to make a preemptive strike. I want to use my intellect and whatever gifts I have for rhetoric to hurt my enemy and send him in a rout from the field.

But I don't care to do so, because Democrats are not my enemy. Half of my family and more than half of my friends are Democrats. I give them the benefit of the doubt. I don't make straw men of their arguments. I don't insult or otherwise abuse them. When they make a compelling case, I am not ashamed to concede the point. Because I surround myself with people who believe differently than I, my compelling arguments become ever stronger over time.

Our political and philosophical opponents make each of us stronger, and ensure the continued vitality of the U.S. form of government. Democrats and Republicans should both assume the other argues in good faith, seeking truth. Rather than hiding behind stereotypes and pat generalizations within physical and electronic enclaves of like-minded individuals, we should actively engage our political and philosophical opponents and listen to what they have to say. At best, we may find common ground. At the very least, we will find ways to make our own arguments better.

This is not to say that there aren't bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling on all sides of the debate. There most certainly are. And when such people are identified they should be excised from the debate as one would excise any malignancy. But do not confuse frustration with your own inability to effectively counter an opponent as malignancy. Instead, embrace such an opponent: He or she will make you stronger, and may become a friend in the process.