Saturday, January 29, 2005

Don't Discount the Opposing Team

I caught myself doing it again this morning. A newpaper opinion piece titled Don't discount U.S. generosity to the world by former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz began:

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous travels through the new nation known as the United States, noted the generosity of the American people and contrasted it to the old world of Europe. That generosity continues to this day despite the efforts, in Star Tribune deputy editorial page editor Jim Boyd's "A Generous Nation?" (Op Ex, Jan. 16), to state otherwise.

Here we go again, I thought.

Seeing the Boschwitz byline, I started sharpening my knife before I got through the second paragraph. What does de Tocqueville's comparison of frontier America and pre-democratic Europe have to do with today, I fumed, except to provide a pseudo-erudite lead for a piece extolling the Ownership Party line?

I'd previously slung editorial page words in contention with the man Paul Wellstone sent into retirement. One letter differed over healthcare policy. Another responded to a Boschwitz dismissal of Jimmie Carter's criticism of Bush's approach to Iraq, because Carter was "not noted for his grasp of international affairs" or something to that effect. My position: It might be worth listening to a former leader who had won a Nobel Peace Prize and continues to devote his time to democracy and peace efforts worldwide.

Where was my copy of Democracy in America? What did the citation actually say? Did my limited edition have an index? (I'd never finished the book, I remembered, so my habit of making a personal index as I read would be little help tracking down the reference.)

Hawkeyed, I moved down the column in search of distortions. Instead, I found a reasoned and well-supported case for broadening the definition of aid — how American defense spending permits our allies to spend more on development and crisis relief, that private contributions through organizations are undercounted, and that immigrant dollars sent back to family members in developing countries has undeniable positive impact on local economies.

Would his words have gotten through to me a year ago, before this experiment in trying to get over divisions? Or would I have continued in my defensive stance against the opposing team's player? Clearly, the reflexes are still there whenever the away team uniform comes into view, and it's still legitimate to consider how affiliations may signal biases. But it's also enlightening to reconsider your own.

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