Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If You Disagree with Me, Then You Are Worse Than Hitler

My wife was having a business meeting with a Hollywood producer when the producer made a remark about how horrible John McCain was. My wife responded that she liked John McCain. Big mistake.

The producer, who came of age during the 1960's, appeared stunned that anyone could even think to utter such a hurtful and offensive thing. After regaining her composure, the producer asked my wife (who must have looked "foreign" to the producer) whether she was even allowed to vote in this country. When my wife broke the sad news that she did indeed have the right to vote, the producer put her face in her hands in despair. The producer then launched into a 20-minute tirade about how rotten, corrupt and incompetent John McCain was.

The producer demanded to know why my wife liked John McCain. My wife made mention of McCain's heroic service to his country. "Let me tell you about that," said the producer. "McCain was a screw-up. He only got into the Navy because his father was an admiral. He was such a bad pilot that he crashed into the lake without even being shot down. If the Vietnamese hadn't rescued him, his own crew would have killed him."

Now, for the record, none of that is true (except for the part about McCain's father having been an admiral). But even if it had been true, what would be the point? Would it somehow negate the heroic strength of character that it took for McCain, his body broken, to choose to suffer years of additional torture because he refused to released without his comrades? When was the last time that we had a presidential nominee from either party who had rendered such compelling proof of his strength of character?

John McCain's heroism does not obligate anyone to agree with him or to vote for him. But why did this producer feel compelled to impugn the character of such an honorable man? Would she not have had more credibility had she simply said something like: "John McCain is a man of great character and I have tremendous respect for his service to his country, but I have good faith disagreements with him on issues that are important to me and so I won't vote for him"? In fact, most people who are not supporting McCain would have no problem saying something like that. But there are some people out there who reflexively demonize people with whom they disagree, and who believe that people who do not share their political views are stupid, evil or both.

Most people, be they liberal, conservative or moderate, would recognize this as an adolescent way of looking at the world. The majority of people on both the left and the right are reasonable, tolerant people who are secure enough to respect good faith differences of opinion.

A subset of conservatives, religious conservatives, are often stereotyped as being intolerant. I believe that this stereotype is unfair, and that the majority of religious conservatives are tolerant (within reason, of course). The most influential religious conservative today is Rick Warren, who has earned trust and respect from both the right and the left. However, there remains a signficant minority of people on the right who are intolerant of those whose views and lifestyles do not conform to a particular set of religious teachings.

Leftist intolerance is a little different. Leftists are more likely to be intolerant of those who do not share their ideology, rather than those who do not share their religion. Perhaps this is because some on the left have rejected religion but have subconsciously filled the void with ideology. Indeed, the leftist brand of intolerance to differing political views bears all of the hallmarks of fundamentalist religious intolerance. Since ideology fills the role in their lives that religion plays in the lives of others, they deal with ideological diversity with the same lack of grace that some religious conservatives deal with those who do not share their religious views. Intolerant leftists practice what I call "secular fundamentalism".

College campuses have become hotbeds of secular fundamentalism, with activist groups frequently trying to stop speeches by those with whom they disagree, and professors sometimes abusing their positions of power to try to impose their political views on their impressionable young students. Ironically, intolerant leftists are the ones who are most likely to assert that all Republicans and/or all people of faith are intolerant.

Let me stress again that the intolerant ones, at least in the U.S., are a minority on both the left and the right (although they may be a majority in Hollywood). To the intolerant ones on the left, being called on their intolerance cuts to the core of their lofty self-image as open-minded, accepting people. Most of these people will never have the self-honesty to grasp the fact of their own close-mindedness and inability to accept diversity of thought. (In fact, many afflicted with the leftist brand of intolerance place great value on "diversity", but they value diversity of skin color to the exclusion of diversity of thought.) To admit their intolerance would destroy their sense of self, and so they protect their psyche by going into denial about their ideological bigotry. They firmly believe that they and people who think exactly as they do have a monopoly on virtue, and that McCarthyism can only be McCarthyism when conservatives are the perpetrators.

I believe that those who accuse John McCain of being corrupt, dishonest, etc., simply undermine their own credibility. Most people know in their hearts that John McCain is a good man. When Madonna compares McCain to Hitler, she makes herself, not McCain, look bad.

I support John McCain for President for many reasons, but I also recognize that Barack Obama is a good man with great intelligence, talent and ability to inspire. It's no insult to say that Obama has not proven his character to the same extent that McCain has; hardly anyone has.

Of course, all of this is only my opinion. But as Greg Gutfeld, host of the hilarious Fox News show Red Eye, would say: If you disagree with me, then you are worse than Hitler.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Golden Bones: A Truly Inspirational Story

Golden Bones (HarperCollins), Sichan Siv's new autobiographical account of his escape from the Killing Fields of Cambodia to find extradordinary success in America, is one of the most inspirational stories ever.

Siv grew up in a middle class family in a village near Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. After working his way through college, he eventually landed a job at the international relief agency CARE. When Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975, Siv's close-knit family was split apart and forced to return to the countryside to perform slave labor. The Khmer Rouge would eventually cause the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians--over a fifth of the population--through execution, starvation and forced labor. Since the Khmer Rouge systematically murdered the most educated members of society, Siv had to hide his educated background at all costs.

Knowing that he would eventually be discovered and murdered, Siv plotted a daring escape into Thailand. He had to bicycle his way from the southeast corner of Cambodia all the way to the northwest corner, hiding in the forests and outwitting the murderous Khmer Rouge every step of the way. After finally making his way to a town near the border, he laid low until he found his chance to escape. He hid in the back of a truck that was transporting logs near the border, jumped off at what he thought was the appropriate moment, but got his shirt caught. After being dragged by the truck for about a mile, he finally broke free and miraculously escaped detection. He then broke into a mad dash through a mine-infested forest and eventually made it into Thailand.

After living in a refugee camp in Thailand, Siv was allowed to enter the U.S. as a refugee in 1976. After working as a migrant farm worker and burger flipper in Connecticut, he moved to New York and became a taxi driver. It was there that he learned that his worst fears had in fact been realized: virtually his entire family, including his elderly mother, his brother, his sister and their families, had been clubbed to death back in Cambodia.

Siv managed to win a scholarship at the prestigious international affairs graduate program at Columbia University. By 1989, just 13 years after he arrived in the U.S. virtually penniless, he was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as Deputy Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. Golden Bones recounts Siv's triumphant but sad return to Cambodia as a high-ranking White House official, and his subsequent service under President George W. Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

Sad Commentary recommends that everyone read Golden Bones, which is full of dramatic twists and turns that are stranger than fiction. It would make a great movie. The question, however, is whether Hollywood today is capable of making a movie that could capture Siv's unabashed love for America without snickering. If every American could see this country through Sichan Siv's eyes, we would all be a lot more thankful for our blessings.