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Global Protests, Tragedy in Arizona, and a Defense of Political Polarization?

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I am not an advocate of political polarization. In fact, I abhor it. And for years I have been listening to scholars and reading books trying to understand the arguments in favor of polarization and have had a very hard time grasping such arguments.

I recently had a partial change of heart. And here's how the story goes:

It all started after I sent a YouTube video to several friends; the video was featured on The Drudge Report and was of Bahraini protesters taking to the streets in Bahrain. Within seconds, Bahrain's army shot these protesters.

At a recent dinner with two of the friends who had seen the video, one of them posed a question to me: She said, "Could you imagine if our government opened fire at us while protesting in front of the White House?" Putting the extraordinary events of Kent State aside, I could not. And for a minute, the obvious became omnipotent: divisive debate seemed almost insignificant in a nation founded upon free speech. I suddenly valued some of the absurdities of the polarization in our nation because I realized that the alternatives could be significantly, and I mean significantly worse.

And as we now unfortunately know all too well, polarization can lead to tragedy too -- as it did in Arizona. However, in America, despite polar extremes where a crazed gunman in Arizona took the limits too far, the core foundation of polarization is based solidly upon a core of free speech. As long as it does not result in violence, as it did with Representative Giffords, I would rather have free speech and some degree of polarized politics than be fighting on the streets for a basic right that some of us might take for granted.

Of course this need not be a one-or-the-other scenario. As President Obama stated in his Tucson speech back in January: "...at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds." And he couldn't be more on point.

Thus in conclusion, I should likely end here with a poignant quote on free speech, most likely from one of our founding fathers. But that seems all too predictable.

So taking a different turn and leaving politics altogether, the rapper Eminem once said: "I think my first album opened a lot of doors for me to push freedom of speech to the limit."

He also said: "It'd be stupid for me to sit here and say that there aren't kids who look up to me, but my responsibility is not to them. I'm not a baby sitter."

And you know what? Without getting into a discussion on government regulations of music -- just talking about the basics of free speech and appreciating what we have -- Eminem's words rest just fine with me.

To contact the author, please visit: www.DavidHelfenbein.com