A writer with the handle ‘its simple IF you ignore the complexity’ has a thought-provoking post over at the Daily Kos, addressing one of the lessons of MLK’s example for conducting political discourse. ‘It’s simple..’ explains it this way in one part of the essay:
I don’t think anyone could seriously make the argument that Dr. King was a sellout…Nay, he stood strong – continuously willing to speak out and when necessary suffer for his beliefs. Expecting not exceptions, but real change in the laws and attitudes he challenged, realizing that neither would come lightly.
Yet, significantly Dr. King managed to do something that we too often overlook. He disagreed – strongly. He challenged injustice – but he did not divide.
He drew lines not to exclude others but to demand change. Recognizing change would not come instantly, he still refused to fall into the trap of hating and demeaning his adversaries.
This should not be considered a call to kumbaya for political writers. Their job is to illuminate truth, and tough analysis of personal character is fair game, provided it’s honest and well-measured.
But the way MLK derived credibilty from criticising policies, while refusing to demonize his adversaries is something campaign workers and candidates should ponder. They have a lot to lose by falling into the trap of ad hominem attacks. Name-calling and personal insults, for example, diminish the dignity of the perp more than the target. Voters want their leaders to be articulate enough to sharply criticize policies, and yet be above what Rev. Jesse Jackson called the “rat-a-tat-tat” of snarky political discourse.
There is a lovely moment in an occasionaly re-televised clip of MLK on the Mike Douglas Show back in the sixties. Douglas is interviewing MLK, and another guest chimes in, questioning one of King’s positions. King calmly, respectfully and eloquently answers the question without the barest hint of hostility. The lovely moment comes at the end of the clip as King sits there with luminous dignity, Douglas and his other guest, not only persuaded, but clearly awestruck by King’s spirit.
We can’t expect our politicians to measure up to MLK, but they have a lot to gain by emulating his way of winning hearts and minds.