As a blogger writing on behalf of a nonprofit, I am always mindful of the need to remain “nonpolitical” in these posts. Today, however, I find myself a bit confused by the underlying issue and I must ask this question:
In today’s climate, what is a “political” issue and what is a “non-political” issue?
An obvious political issue is the support or nonsupport of a specific political candidate for a public office, either local or national – that’s an easy one. Moving from the very specific, on the continuum of generalities, a political issue would also include the support or nonsupport of a political party or a specific issue on a local ballot – again, easy to determine. We can, then, define a “definitely political” issue as one which may be (or, perhaps, even has been) reduced to a ballot in a general election.
Most people would agree that a “nonpolitical” issue is one on which there is general consensus or one involving a moral issue. In theory, that is correct. In practice, however, the issue becomes much murkier.
Let’s examine what should be (and have been in the past) considered “slam-dunk” nonpolitical issues: Peace, Child Protection, Elder Welfare, just to name a few.
Is a desire for Peace nonpolitical, then – even during a war or the threat of a war?
Is a desire for the safety for children nonpolitical – even during a period of detention/incarceration of children?
Is a desire for the security of the elderly nonpolitical – even if safety nets for the elderly are threatened?
What about Free Speech? Certainly, in the United States, that should be an issue on which there could be no disagreement. In the Talmudic story of Hillel the Elder and the Convert, it is said that Hillel stated “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the entire Torah, and the rest is its commentary.” Similarly, the First Amendment is the bedrock of our society – if the entirety of the Constitution were lost and only the First Amendment remained, it would be enough to define our traditions and our social philosophy. Freedom of expression, in all its various manifestations, individually and in association with others, is the very definition of the United States and defines how we perceive ourselves and how the world perceives us.
SO – is freedom of speech a political or a nonpolitical issue? It is such a bedrock definition of “Americanism” that one would imagine it to be nonpolitical; however, in today’s bitter climate of suspicion and name-calling, even this “bedrock principle” can be defined as “political” because there are those who claim that right only for themselves and those who believe as they do – and there are those who define that right broadly to include all written and spoken ideas. And, so, sadly, I am afraid that we cannot use “freedom of speech” as a topic for “nonpolitical” discussion.
In the end, I fear that it may no longer be a case of “political” and “nonpolitical” issues, but a situation of agreement or disagreement. If we can only “agree” or “disagree” with each other, then there is no American society, no opportunity for public discourse and strength and vigor will drain from our society.
In a letter to John Adams in 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.”
Let us always choose the enthusiasm of free discussion – that choice will obviate the necessity of agonizing the difference between “political” and “nonpolitical” topics.