Commentary

The Polar Myth

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An act of animal cruelty is under investigation after Russellville resident Jake Burris and his family arrived home Sunday to find their pet cat dead. Scrawled on the fur of the carcass was the word “liberal.” The gruesome incident has received national attention from the media with postings on CNN, CBS, Politico and Huffington Post.

Burris is the campaign manager of Democratic candidate Ken Aden, who is running against Steve Womack in the upcoming November election for the Congressional seat of the third district. The Third Congressional District has been a Republican region since 1966, and the political climate doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.

Though Ken Aden may not be making waves big enough to change the political climate of the entire district, it seems that his candidacy or opinions have become the target of at least one person’s outrage.

There is no doubt that the national media is delighted with this juicy tidbit, and I imagine most Americans are crinkling their noses at the graphic image of the dead cat and thanking their lucky stars that they don’t live in Arkansas — where your pet could be murdered as a political statement.

It’s the scaled-down hillbilly version of the scene in “The Godfather” where Jack Woltz awakens to find the head of his prized horse in his bed. Only in Arkansas, it’s a five-year-old boy who finds his cat dead on his doorstep, and it’s real life.

Real life.

It may be hard for you to imagine if you live out of state, or even if you’re reading this story for the first time and haven’t seen the pictures or read quotes from Jake Burris. It’s a bizarre, disturbing story; and when you and I move on to next week’s issue, Burris and his family will still be searching for the person who killed their cat. This twisted incident will stay in their lives forever, as part of their history, because they chose to stand behind something and were labeled for it.

But since when has “liberal” become a negative term? For that matter, when did “conservative” take on negative connotations?

Among Free Weekly readers, there was some discussion about how to label the killing of the Burris family cat. Vandalism, animal cruelty, hate crime and terrorism were terms that floated around the comment section.

In 2008, Jim Adkisson opened fire on a Unitarian congregation in Knoxville, Tenn., killing two people and injuring eight. In a letter, Adkisson referenced his disapproval of the church’s liberal views and support  of homosexual lifestyles as a motivating factor of the attack. The incident raised the question, “Is targeting someone based on his political beliefs considered a hate crime?”

As of right now, America’s answer is no.

When we think of right-wing or left-wing terrorism, both sides of the spectrum imagine different villains in the shadows, pulling the ropes and instigating paranoia and distributing propaganda.

I found a simple chart, outlining liberal and conservative views on social matters on studentnewsdaily.com.

We all want the same things in life. We want freedom; we want the chance for prosperity; we want as few people suffering as possible; we want healthy children; we want to have crime-free streets. The argument is how to achieve them…
LIBERALS — believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all.  It is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.  Believe the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.   
CONSERVATIVES — believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense. Believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.
NOTE: The terms “left” and “right” define opposite ends of the political spectrum. In the United States, liberals are referred to as the left or left-wing and conservatives are referred to as the right or right-wing. On the U.S. political map, blue represents the Democratic Party (which generally upholds liberal principles) and red represents the Republican party (which generally upholds conservative principles).

In addition to the definition of “liberals” and “conservatives,” let me draw your attention to the “Note” section of the diagram where you will find that the polarization of American values has shaped itself into partisan labels as well.

There is no longer a largely accepted “moderate” stance. By today’s definition, shared values do not generally exist between liberals and conservatives, and by default, are nontransferable between Democrats and Republicans.

However, if you take the time to read the Student News Daily website’s complete analysis of liberal and conservative social values, you will probably find that you straddle the line between the two on some issues, or even that you take the stance of “your opponent.”

Strictly polar definitions are alienating Americans from one another by portraying the opposing group as extreme. When, at the very peak of crisis, change is demanded, representatives offer two vastly different opinions that prompt resentment and outrage, not against both parties for being ineffective, but against the enemy party and the citizens who support them.

America’s problem is not the definition of party politics, or even the difference between conservative and liberal, but it is instead the definition of what it means to be American. Upholding a democratic government takes constant tending, as it is ever evolving to accommodate changes in culture and society; but we must also be consistent in our values.

I think The Pledge of Allegiance says it best, “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Hey, it’s a start.
RIP Gato.

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