I’m sure I’m only writing this to protest the endless presidential campaign — a campaign in which it’s been impossible to favor one candidate for very long without buying into reasons to despise the opposition. Or have you forgotten how, long before the distant time when Obama and McCain both seemed like pretty good guys, Democrats were rejoicing that their field of candidates was so strong — Clinton, Obama, et al — that they’d happily support whoever wound up with the nomination? Apparently there’s only one way to make a hard choice — turn it into an easy choice by demonizing one of the alternatives and everyone who supports it.
If that’s the process, the fewer hard choices the better. So the other day I was reading in the New York Times about generals Grant and Lee. It had never occurred to me that Grant and Lee represented any sort of choice at all, aside from the one about the causes they served, but the Times story claimed that “these two generals, implacable opponents on the battlefield, have been linked by posterity in push-me-pull-you fashion, so that the reputation of one can’t go up unless the other’s sinks.”
Why? They were opposing generals, not opposing poles. The Times story was about a historical exhibit, which, the reporter conceded, did not, “strictly speaking, weigh the merits of one versus the other.” Nevertheless, that’s how he framed his story, an example of the binary thinking that warps the hour. And it reminded me of another another annoying Times story from a few days earlier — a discussion of “elderspeak,” the language by which so many people, doctors in particular, infuriate older people by addressing them as children. Calling them “dear,” calling them “sweetie,” calling them “good girl.”
The binary thinking at work here: that what’s right for children is wrong for their grandparents. In fact, children hate being called “dear” and “sweetie” and “good girl” just as much as the elderly. Don’t set them up as alternatives. Everyone at any age has pride. Everyone knows when they’re being talked down to.
Not just adults. And voters.