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home : opinions : opinions June 23, 2018

5/8/2018 1:16:00 PM
Kicking a bad habit
By T. Lee Brown

I recently had occasion to chat with a local colleague about the tone of political discussion these days. Progressives are often too hostile, he suggested, and make too many assumptions based on (ironically enough) the race and gender of other folks-especially if those other folks happen to be white and male. I'd say there's been plenty of hostility on all sides, but he's got a good point. If progressives want to make real progress in the world? Rather than licking our wounds in the corner, we need to check more than our privilege. We need to check our outrage, self-righteousness, and dismissiveness of others. And we need to vote for candidates who will do the same.

It ain't easy. I've been whackin' away at this problem for two years, trying to open my mind. Pushing past my horrified shock when a Bernie Sanders-lovin' friend switched his vote over to Trump, I really listened to his reasoning. Looking out over the ponderosas, I talked without rancor with a relative who believes another family member is wrong and sinful for "choosing homosexuality." I've genuinely tried to open up and understand. And I searched within myself, separating my core values from party-line policies.

Why bother being open-minded? Why go through the deep pain of questioning long-held beliefs of oneself and one's tribe? Well, it's the decent thing to do, especially in a polarized and extreme political climate. If we won't listen to others-even people who dress, speak, eat, or worship differently-we deserve the chaotic White House we've got. Progressives claim to fight for equality for all, yet we often won't listen to 43.8% of our local residents (that's how many Sisters-area voters leaned Trump). Just to avoid being complete hypocrites, we need to chill out and open up. Bonus: interrogating one's assumptions brings intellectual, emotional, and spiritual rewards.

Strategically, isolating ourselves in a self-congratulatory bubble where we don't have to shake hands or exchange Facebook likes with neighbors who-gasp-vote Republican, has clearly resulted in failure. Our frothing-at-the-mouth self-righteousness was so predictable, we were even manipulated by the Russians! Letting go of our snooty attitudes could help reverse the damage done in 2016. If we stop condemning our neighbors and start listening to them, maybe some will join us fighting for shared causes, regardless of party.

Long-term, we need to show that progressives can engage in real conversation without name-calling and shutting-down. We need to elect candidates who can listen to their entire constituency and reach across the aisle... even if the Tea Partiers have set the opposite example. "But they did it first!" is not a good enough excuse for kids on the playground and it's not good enough for alleged grownups in civic life.

So what's a thoughtful Democrat to do? Start off by truly listening; it's way harder than it sounds. Then vote for a candidate who already knows how to listen and respond with respect and consideration. Vote for someone who has a track record of public service, who's got experience in local government. Someone who is "a big advocate of local wisdom," while also using hard data to inform policy. A rural Democrat who knows what it's like to be discriminated against but who's now legally married to a wife with deep Eastern Oregon ranching roots. Vote for a leader who will positively impact the image and reach of progressives in rural Oregon-whether or not she defeats Walden next November. Vote for Jamie McLeod-Skinner.

Closed-minded lefty-liberal behavior is a habit, deeply entrenched. But heck-I quit smoking, drinking, and plenty of other vices over the years. Surely I can kick this, too. And I'll vote for Jamie in the District 2 primary.

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