After the election

Thanks, voters, for the arguments

November 7, 2012 

To every American who argued and fought and squabbled, day after day during this long and often bitter presidential election, I’d just like to say one thing:

Thank you.

I’ve been thinking about those of you who wouldn’t keep your mouths shut.

Thank you for opening those mouths and putting your lungs behind your words and ideas. Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, tea party conservative, Green Party liberal or a member of Occupy Whatever, your political leanings aren’t the issue here.

What matters is that you stood up and spoke your mind. Some called you racist or stupid. Some tried to embarrass you into silence by comparing you to a sex act. Others were portrayed as Stalinist sleeper agents hoping to force us into singing the Soviet anthem.

Still you kept hammering away, talking to your neighbors, going to town meetings and writing angry, insulting letters to columnists like me with whom you disagreed. Thank you. Yes, thank you.

Somewhere we got the idea that messy and angry politics is something to be avoided. Why, because it’s messy and angry?

That’s the sound of freedom. Our founders understood this. Unfortunately, some Americans forgot. They’re bothered by loud talk and arguments. And many of these people want low voices and no rough edges. They’ve been coerced to think that quiet is best.

It is not best.

Democracy is supposed to be loud, especially when people fight about ideas. When the federal government holds so much power, arguing is inevitable. Arguing is what free people do.

The men who founded America understood about yelling and screeching. They did plenty of it. They were of the crazy opinion that liberty was preferable to quiet. So they argued, they schemed. Sometimes they fought each other with leaked negative stories in the press.

A few even fought each other with iron tongs from the fireplace of the Congress. Yes, tongs. Back on Feb. 15, 1798, members of the U.S. House of Representatives went at it.

Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut attacked colleague Matthew Lyon of Vermont on the floor of the House.

Griswold was for President John Adams’ hardball politics against France. Lyon believed, as did Vice President Thomas Jefferson, that a military buildup would lead to war. They got to jawing. Lyon spit tobacco juice at Griswold, who later went after him with a cane. When the cane came out, Lyon grabbed a pair of iron tongs from the fireplace. It got worse.

According to historical accounts, Jefferson’s minions accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite, with “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ camp shrieked that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

Not bad for a president and his vice president, eh?

So you think politics is rough today because a few taxpayers gathered to harass members of Congress over how their tax dollars have been wasted? Get real.

It’s easier to keep quiet. That comfy pillow on the couch is also quiet. It’s for sitting on. It doesn’t complain when you plop down upon it while watching political news on TV.

For those who keep wringing their hands and whimpering about the loud sound of our politics, I’ve got just the solution:

North Korea.

The politics are quiet and peaceful over there. The last guy who stepped out of line politically got himself mortared to death. Not mortared with bricks — the other kind of mortar, the kind that goes “boom.”

Contact Kass, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, at jskass@tribune.com.

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