That Genie Won’t Go Back in the Bottle

No Telling

I’ve seen and heard an awful lot of hate lately, and it worries me. It should worry all of us.

John McCain made an attempt yesterday to quell a bit of that, but the attempt is late and doesn’t square with his campaign message. He’s between a rock and a . . . well, rock. One one hand he’s got to make Obama out to be the devil, and on the other – not devil enough to assassinate. Yes, that’s a strong word, but some folks out there are riled up and the Crowd is starting to sound like a Mob. Some people believe anything you tell them, and once they become suitably inflamed they don’t much like being told the devil’s not quite as bad as all that.

You don’t have to use a podium and a large hall to incite folks, either. I live next door to a sweet elderly woman who’s cornered me several times in the yard to discuss “that HUSSEIN Obama” while her nervous little dog pees in my grass. She’s convinced he’s a Muslim/terrorist/A-Rab/communist/Antichrist, and she’s genuinely afraid. Stirring up fear in people is one thing, but frightening old neighbor-ladies is an unforgivable sin. I try to avoid her on Wednesday nights after Bible Study and – of course – on Sunday evenings when her conspiracy fears seem to be most feverish. She’s never attended a political rally and probably never will, but that doesn’t stop her from knowing what she knows. She may watch FOX News, but she gets her real political information from the good people at church.

That, my friends, is a genie that can never go back into its bottle.

The Wednesday Night Bible Study group my neighbor-lady commiserates with will never cause a harm. To anyone. Ever. But there are those out there who who might. There are those out there who have, actually. Arkansas has its fair share of lunatics and I’m sure every other state can say the same.

It all goes back to my teaching mantra. I tell my students that in their essays and in life, the most important thing they will ever get right is to Know Their Audience. Words are powerful and require responsible wielding. I also tell my students that what they don’t say is just as important as what they do say. Just ask those folks up the road who were around when Faubus closed the schools. They’ll tell you all about the incendiary nature of irresponsible words and silences.

Working both sides of the aisle is going to be an even trickier business now, because McCain also has to work both sides of the pew as well. “Country First, “senator. Country. First.