The frightening season is upon us

Will Segeth is standing up for the principles he believes in and against a cowardly neighbor who has anonymously threatened him for posting a political sign on his lawn on the Redlands.

Good for Segeth. He has every right to express his views and not be cowed by someone who leaves his name off a letter. In that letter, the person who was identified only as “a nearby neighbor,” warned Segeth,

“You are looking for trouble and property damage with signs like yours.”

Segeth’s sign no doubt angered some folks, but it does not advocate violence or lawbreaking. It says only: “Vets need help. Send Congressional Democrats to Iraq.”

But this political dust-up is indicative of the declining civility in our politics. We no longer tolerate opposition to our own poltiical views. Those who believe differently are not only wrong, they must be evil.

And our political statements must not only express our views, they must demonize those with whom we disagree.

Compare Segeth’s relatively benign attack on Democrats and their lack of support for the war in Iraq with the Halloween display outside a California home this week. In it, a mannequin dressed up to look like Sarah
Palin was hanged in effigy. The homeowner took it down only after multiple public protests by his neighbors and a visit from the police.

Moreover, we have all manner of false and hateful attacks on both Republican and Democratic candidates, often fueled by mindless Internet prattle.

For instance, several e-mailers in the past couple weeks have sent messages to this newspaper, asking if we had “the journalistic integrity” to publish comments Sen. Barack Obama allegedly made on “Meet the Press” Sept. 7.

During the program, the e-mail says, Obama denigrated the American flag and the national anthem, said he wants to change both of them, and pledged “to disarm America to the level of acceptance to our Middle East Brethren.”

Sure. No major political candidate in his right mind would make such a statement on a national television broadcast. And, of course, Obama didn’t.

In fact, he wasn’t even on “Meet the Press” on Sept. 7. Joe Biden was, but he made no statements like those attributed to his running mate. Obama appeared on the program twice earlier this year — in May and again in July — and the transcripts show he said nothing of the kind attributed to him.

The whole thing began with a satirical column in a publication called “The Arizona Conservative,” and it apparently grew with subsequent e-mailings.

There is plenty of false information circulated about the other side, as well, especially regarding Sarah Palin.

No, she is not a member of a secessionist group, was not a supporter of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign and never posed in an American flag bikini holding a rifle.

But for too many people on both sides of the political divide, any factual evidence contrary to their already hardened political beliefs is inconsequential or false. If they receive an e-mail or see an Internet story making outrageous claims about a candidate they already despise, they are eager to believe.

And this newspaper, as well as every other traditional media news source, is automatically perceived as the conspiratorial accessory and mouthpiece for the other side — whether the other side is Democrat or Republican.

As the column below demonstrates, we have lost the ability to talk about our political ideas in a rational manner with those who hold differing views.

Politics ain’t pillow fights, of course, and there will always be rough-and-tumble disputes over which policies are the best and whose records are most acceptable.

But we need to recover the means of discussing those issues civilly and with some measure of dispassion. If we don’t, soon every public expression of our political views will be met with the sort of threats — perhaps followed by actual violence — that Will Segeth received this week.


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