Apples and Bananas

Posted March 10, 2009, at 6:35 p.m.

Imagine a land where all the people were divided into two groups. Let’s call them apples and bananas. The apples had certain ideas about how the land should be governed. The bananas disagreed with each of those ideas, and had their own vision of how the land should be run. In that land, a man had a radio show to which millions faithfully listened. This man — let’s call him “Gush,” for he could speak for hours at a time — told his listeners that the apples always were wrong. Their core values (forgive the pun) were inherently flawed, he said. As proof, Gush singled out certain apples with extreme “appletic” views, and argued these bad apples made all the other apples rotten.

When it came time to talk about the bananas, Gush ignored those who had gone bad — accepted bribes, got caught in illicit sexual liaisons, ignored the laws of the land or just exhibited extreme incompetence. Instead, he extolled the virtues of “bananaism” and denigrated the apples.

Although the names are different, this isn’t make-believe. Are Democrats always wrong and Republicans always right? Are “regular folks” either liberal or conservative, or do they hold a mixed-bag of beliefs on social, fiscal, domestic and foreign policy issues? Further, do our elected officials — even though they are members of one party or the other — always vote in predictable ways? Or do they in fact break ranks with their party on reasons related to their region, gender, religious beliefs, the views of their constituents or — gasp! — the merits of the proposal? And if they do break ranks, what does that say about those who would try to convince us that the nation is embroiled in an epic, to-the-death battle between two diametrically opposed groups, only one of which can be right?

The recent feud within the Republican Party revolving around talk radio host Rush Limbaugh raises these questions. Though no one advocates pulling the plug on conservative talk radio, Mr. Limbaugh’s antics do little to further the cause of responsible public discourse.

The most recent example of Mr. Limbaugh’s efforts to perpetuate this distorted view of our two-party system came when he expressed his hope that President Obama would fail. If the president does indeed fail in his efforts to revive the economy, or at least halt its slide, millions will lose jobs, homes and health care. It’s not an exaggeration to say that people will get sicker and die, marriages disintegrate and children suffer if Mr. Limbaugh gets his wish.

In essence, the talk show host is saying the struggle between conservative and liberal values is more important than the fate of the economy and the country.

Never mind that thanks to the Clinton and Bush administrations, the very terms by which we measure conservative and liberal are up for debate. And never mind that history shows the pendulum in America’s body politic swings very slowly from one orientation to the other and then back again.

Americans should reject the apple-banana view of our democracy.

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