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Do Political Attacks Leave Behind Battle Scars?


Finally today. While following the Republican Convention last week, and the Democrats this week, I started thinking about the production of a Shakespeare play that a friend invited me to a number of years ago. The play was "Coriolanus," about the brilliant Roman general whose success in battle encourages his supporters to push them into politics - a job for which he has no interest and no aptitude at all. It is, of course, a tragedy, and this play, as you might imagine, raises a lot of interesting questions about the people we choose to lead us and why.

Today though, in particular, I was thinking about act two, that's when Coriolanus prepares for his reluctant elevation to counsul. And it emerges that he is expected to present himself to the public, but not just to show a make nice, but to show his scars from battle. It's explained that his supporters want to see them and his tractors will denounce him for arrogance if he won't.

Can I just tell you, since I saw that play I've thought about how we do this, even now. How often we demand that we and our leaders show each other our scars - not our literal scars, of course, but failures, hatreds, private hurts - real or imagined. Do we want these men and women to prove that they've suffered for the job, that they are courageous and resilient, that they bear our burdens with us? Or is it that we want to see their scars so we can show our own - so we can rail at their enemies, and in doing so, rail at ours?

I was thinking about this after I read reports about one of last week's convention speakers, Mia Love. She's the mayor of a small town in Utah and she's running for that state's fourth Congressional District seat. She came in for some rough Internet treatment after her rousing convention floor speech, extolling the virtues of the Republican Party. Apparently, her Wikipedia entry was defaced with racist and sexist slurs. I say apparently, because it had been fixed by the time I saw it. Anyway, this was all due to the fact that Mrs. Love is of Haitian descent - or in the language of the United States, black or African-American. She's also married to a white man, a member of her church, the LDS Church, and she's been quoted as saying she has no truck with philosophies that she believes breed dependence and division.

Now I hope nobody needs to say this, but I will just in case, making sexual or racist remarks about somebody because they disagree with his or her politics is sick and wrong. Defacing her Wikipedia entry is sick and wrong. But I also found it interesting that on some of the very same conservative websites that were understandably outraged about Mrs. Love's treatment, we saw very prominently, the same racist claptrap as we've been seeing about President Obama all along. I'll quote. "Once again, Odumbo(ph) take out the race card but will accuse others of doing it. What a hypocrite. America needs to get rid of this fool in American clothing and send him back to his homeland in Kenya," unquote.

Really, people? And here is my other question. What's our role in this - we the spectators, the media, the commentators, the public who repeat these stories? And we often hear it said that silence equals a scent, that the best disinfectant is sunshine. So we aired the scars, these hated stripes, and tell ourselves this is what we must guard against; this is what we must fix.

But isn't it also true that the rage and anger are oxygen to the most destructive elements in our country - fuel to the most hate-filled, the most ignorant.

So where is the line? Where should we draw it? Show us your scars, America - but why? So we can heal them, revel in them, or seek to inflict more of our own?

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.