'Can't we all get along?' is not the point

This Tuesday we'll settle measures 66 and 67 and see if some corporations and high-income Oregonians will pay more taxes. Every argument that can be made has been. I put my two cents in last week's column, and got at least a dime's worth back from some Democrats who read excerpts on a political blogsite centered in Portland.

They didn't much care for my attack on a Yes on 66/67 TV ad. It shows Oregonians fuming at outrageous credit-card late fees and huge CEO bonuses funded by even huger taxpayer bailouts, which then gets jumbled with the fact that some mega-corporations have gamed the system to keep their Oregon tax at $10 for decades. Though all the individual elements are true, I argued that this links them in an intellectually dishonest way: "Why are we hearing about all that now, again and again and again, especially when most who would pay more under these measures have nothing to do with credit cards and banking? To help us thoughtfully weigh these intricate tax and revenue questions, or to uncork our rage at what's happened to this country?"

Because I strongly support these measures, I wrote those words feeling conflicted and discouraged. I've seen much sleazier political ads than this one, but the core strategy of pushing our hot buttons doesn't seem different in kind from what led to our pre-emptive invasions of other countries, a Patriot Act that trashes basic rights and healthcare reform opposition that has people saying, "Keep government's hands off my Medicare!" Many of us hate the manipulation enabling all this, and I saw a strain of the same technique in this ad.

Some blog responders agreed. Some, well, didn't:

"I think this post is ridiculous "¦ it's about time working people joined the fight ... the bad guys have been waging war on working families for decades."

"The progressives have practiced unilateral disarmament for far too long and have gotten their butts kicked six ways from Sunday. The unpleasant fact is that most people are not persuaded by complex intellectual arguments; they are persuaded by simple messages that resonate emotionally. If we are going to have any success in this battle we have to use the weapons that work."

"Grow a spine, Golden, and figure out that when you're in a fight, you should try throwing a punch at the bad guys."

"[This] 'can't we all just get along" plea is a setback for Yes on 66/67. Gobblygook."

There's an important thread in this criticism that's accurate. While there's been nastiness from all parts of the political spectrum, I think it's fair to make this broad generalization about modern times: the Left has been more interested in "Can't we all get along?" while the Right's been more interested in winning at any cost. This doesn't make for a fair fight. The film "Recount," about the Florida battle to determine the 2000 election, is a great primer on how this works.

Many say you don't have to go that far back for examples. The current president keeps asking for ideas from "our friends" on the other side, long after many of them have shown that their central idea is that he, along with every progressive impulse he's ever had, has to be crushed. With each new blow from opponents he seems to say, "No, I really mean it; can't we just all get along?"

Enough. That's what the column's critics were saying. I want my side to be tougher, too. But these days we readily confuse toughness with nastiness, and over time nastiness is a thin strategy. This particular TV spot is a sharp and obvious effort to rev up anger at Wall Street greed. That probably brings in ballots from some like-thinking people who otherwise might not vote, but what about the much larger number of uncommitted voters?

I think they're more alert than does the writer of this ad. They start out with a bias that both sides are full of manure, and this ad looks like more proof. What I've heard far too many times, especially from younger Oregonians, is, "They're all crooks and liars and I'm not listening to any of it." That's aggravating when you know some dedicated people working honestly and hard in public office, but the fact remains that powerful change isn't likely without massive support from younger folks.

Getting tough indiscriminately is just about as inept in the real world as, "Can't we all get along?" Do we have it in us to move toward a politics that is tough, respectful and honest all at the same time? We'd better hope so.

There's still time through this Tuesday to drop your 66/67 ballot in the white election bin behind the Ashland library. Do.

Daily Tidings columnist Jeff Golden is the author of "Forest Blood," "As If We Were Grownups" and the novel "Unafraid," with excerpts available at www.unafraidthebook.com.

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