Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Cost of In Group v. Out Group: Honoring Service Of The “Other Side”

In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama. That shouldn't come as a huge shock given in 2008 I was also twenty-four years old, and just finishing up with a bachelors degree in political science. The odds of me having voted for NOT Obama that year are staggeringly low, but even so I was on the fence for most of the spring and summer leading up to the election. Why? Simple. Senator John McCain was the Republican candidate and was, without question, qualified for the job in every way. He was an experienced Senator, a war veteran including the unique understanding as a surviving prisoner of war, and he was a seemingly decent person. His campaign stayed, for a long time, reasonable and positive. There was even talk of him picking a Democrat or Independent as his running mate. I still wonder if McCain/Lieberman on the ticket changes that race... and thereby history.

I ruled out support for McCain's candidacy the minute he announced his running mate and was sad to see what happened over the next few months as the campaign turned from two leaders with disagreements trying to convince voters, to “us” v. “them” like a bad infection, spreading hate and divisiveness.

To be fair, it wasn't a totally one sided issue, but the further we get from that strange turn in August of 2008, when the Nation was introduced to Gov. Palin (who represents the instant legitimization of the idea that political leaders don't need to be smart), the more I cannot help but wonder if that was the spark that lit the fire, or at least the straw that broke the camel's back, concerning the hard-line “liberals” and “conservative” fight. I use those terms in quotations because you can bet, and it's a bet you'll win more often than not, that if someone on the left says “conservative” and if someone on the right says “liberal” neither of them will be talking about an actual person or platform, but instead a caricature of what they perceive the other side as being.

It's a simple trick and one that is used in so many ways to create drive and success. Anyone who's been on a competitive team for any activity has experienced the “us” v. “them” feelings. Even just being a fan of a sports team is enough, or people who had been cheering for and hoping for Leo to win an Oscar all those years. It's mostly harmless, but since August of 2008 (this started before then, mostly stemming from disagreements over Iraq and what being a "patriot" meant, but in trying to put a real marker in the timeline, 2008's election is the big one) two sides have severed most of the ties, allowing things to drift further and further apart.

That's why, as I read the stories about Senator John McCain's diagnosis, I'm struck with these thoughts. After the 2008 election Senator McCain wasn't the same. He lost a lot of credibility with moderates and even some on the Right because he joined the “F-Obama” express and went from being a voice of reason to being another partisan barb. It was odd to see from a Senator that was known for being a "Maverick" willing to work with both sides to accomplish goals. He joined in with Republican leaders in making their No. 1 goal to make Obama a one-term President. Yet, even so Sen. McCain remained a leader in the Senate and as the years have passed has come back closer to that position of being a respected stalwart of dignity and independent thought, something our Government is in dire need of.

As we learn about the Senator's illness, and as he undergoes treatment, I certainly will wish him the best. I hope as American's we all can. I hope, even more so, we can use the moment to remember that “them” the “other side” is filled with people. That most of us want “What's best” and that having different ideas and ideologies about what that may be doesn't make us enemies, at least not in a country where we are afforded the freedom to hold those opinions as our own and openly share them without fear of punishment.

Senator McCain's illness could and should be a healing moment for discourse. He didn't reach his goal of the Presidency, but his legacy can be so much more than being the candidate that picked Sarah Palin as a running mate. The history of Presidential politics will not be kind to that decision, and it's a fair assessment that the choice of Palin likely created the momentum that later became President Donald Trump, but that's a totally different topic.

 John McCain is a U.S. Senator, with years of service, and a true war hero. His life's work and accomplishments deserve at least a pause from his fellow Americans, to remember that we are, all of us, just people. 

While writing a phrase kept popping into my head: “We the people...” the opening to our very basis of Government in this country. We the people. Not “We the Democrats” or “We the Republicans” or “We the Liberals” or “We the Conservatives” or “We the Rich” or “We the Poor” or any other group.

Just the people.

- A. Sommer

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


If you have not yet seen it, James Comey's anticipated statement has been put out already, ahead of his June 8th testimony in front of the Senate. There is a link at the bottom. I read it. It's exactly what we've been told it would be. 

Before you read it, before you listen to it, and before you listen to the talking news heads explain it in whatever spin zone you prefer, try something. 

Try reading it without the names. Try thinking of the entire issue based solely on the positions, the offices, the responsibility.

It's a useful exercise. It's an exercise that can help us all take off our partisian blinders and focus on the Country. 

What did the President do? What did the President ask?

You see, it doesn't matter if the President is a man, a woman, a Republican, a Democrat, or anything else. It just doesn't matter, and it shouldn't matter. Not when the issues are about the Country's most powerful and their behavior within the law.

We live in a country founded on the Rule of Law, an idea and ideal that no one person is above that law. That's the pushback to Monarchy and Oligarchy, when the law was something used only to subjugate the lower classes and didn't apply to the upper class, and especially not the King or Queen. The law is the great equalizer, one power to which all must yield. Yet, without enforcement the law is nothing.

So, as you read or listen and as you decide who is right and wrong, just try it. Because at the end of the day this isn't about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, or any other singular person. It's about the institutions, the power, the law, and the responsibility. There was time as Americans that was easy to do. 

Put aside the words of judgment for whatever "side" you disagree with and view the issue as an American. Let your loyalty be first to your fellow Americans, your neighbors, and our well being. Let's focus on the Country, for real.

Read Comey Statement by clicking these words. 

- Adam Sommer