Saturday, May 28, 2016

Towards a More Civil Discourse

I'm Scott Grimsley and, as Mark wrote, I am the little brother.  Interestingly when we were young, I never had any real interest in politics.  Mark was working for the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976 as a 16 year old; I could have cared less.  In fact, in what was one of the most monumental elections of my lifetime, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, which was also the first time I was eligible to vote in a presidential election, I didn't bother.  Instead I learned Ronald Reagan had been elected pumping quarters into slots at a video arcade on the Ohio State campus.

I should have known better.  Stagflation, as the horrible economy of the late 1970's was termed, meant that I was paying 21.7% interest on my 1977 Chevy Monza (a real piece of junk even at 0% interest), and had seen the spectacle of the Iranian Hostage Crisis unfold for the previous year with America's impotence for all to see.  For some reason, as is ever the case with many young people, it seemed politics had little to do with the reality of what I was witnessing.

Four years later though, I couldn't wait to get the polls to reelect Ronald Reagan to a second term. Reagan spoke to me as no politician ever had.  Believing that the Cold War would be resolved in some form over the next 50 years, and not being willing to not contribute to the outcome, I joined the Army in 1985.  I attended Officer Candidate School and served as an armor officer for the next seven years.  I took my duties very seriously, and did not pay much attention to politics in the best tradition of the military.  However, in the late 1980's several things happened to change my viewpoint on things profoundly.  First was the birth of my daughter in 1988.  This changed me more than anything else ever has because it made me think seriously about the future and the kind of world she would grow up in.  The second was I starting reading the Christian worldview writings of Chuck Colson, and realized there should be a strong connection between what I believe and how I act on that belief.  The third thing was that I started to listen to Rush Limbaugh.  Rush will be the first to say that he does not so much shape opinion as give voice to a constituency which was largely inarticulate in its beliefs, and such was the case with me.  He presented politics from a viewpoint that I enthusiastically agreed with, and it was almost like hearing what I would say myself, if I were more informed at the time.

These three things began the evolution of political awareness that continues to this day.  I continue to learn and grow in my beliefs, and have great strength of my convictions.  I no longer need the training wheels of Rush Limbaugh to help give voice to my views, though I still listen from time to time when I am traveling.  So I have come a long way from the time when I asked my brother while I was in college to explain the difference between a liberal and a conservative, because I genuinely did not know.  But there is one additional idea that also has emerged from my political journey and is one sadly lacking in much of today's discourse.

In 1996, during the presidential campaign between the hapless Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, Dole's running mate, Jack Kemp, came to my small town of Elizabethtown to give a speech.  Jack Kemp, as many of you know, was an adviser to Ronald Reagan and the innovator who came up with such ideas as Enterprise Zones and other innovations to empower economically sectors of American society who did not feel they had a chance at the American dream.  In short, Kemp was a capitalist's capitalist, a man who believed in supply side economics to his core.

When he gave his brief talk to a few dozen of us at the municipal airport though, he said something that both surprised and amazed me.  He described his vision of how things could work, and then the progressive vision, and how that view differed from it.  Then came the remarkable comment - he said that "both were legitimate points of view".  No slander, no reviling his opponents as godless haters of American liberty, but simply people who disagreed with him over what was the best policy for the country.

I think this is where true dialogue among people of goodwill begins.  It is the recognition that people who disagree with you have looked at the same facts and are coming up with what they see as the best solution.  This does not mean that all ideas are equal: there are ones that have more merit than others without doubt.  There are ideas that work better towards solving a problem than others.  So it is incumbent for folks of good will to argue about ideas, testing the strengths and weaknesses of their own positions against those of their opponents because, at the end of the day, we, along with our children, have to live with what we come up with.

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