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David Weinberger Headshot

Zero Tolerance for Humans

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John McCain singing "Bomb bomb bomb, Iran" to the
tune of "Barbara Ann" wasn't even exactly a joke. He
was clarifying a question from the audience that
used euphemisms and circumlocutions to urge him to
bomb Iran. Being famously quirky and ready to blurt
out what he thinks, McCain not only said the words
that the questioner had been afraid to utter, he
turned them into a refrain.

A great moment in politics? A terrific witticism? A
graceful Kennedy-esque use of humor? Nah. But in
seizing on it, progressives are doing more harm
than McCain's little ditty could have done even if
we take it at its worst. We are dragging the
process down, legitimizing the tactic, debasing
understanding, and driving nuance out of the system.
Frankly, taking McCain down a peg just isn't worth
it.

In fact, by shoving McCain's face into this
particular pie, we make it just a little harder -- a little
-- for our world to live in peace.

The Republicans have played the gotcha game with
consummate skill. It's almost admirable, the way you
might tell a thug, "Wow, that guy never saw your
sucker punch coming." From Muskie crying (oh the
shame!), to Dukakis' imitation of Snoopy riding in
a tank, to Kerry botching a joke about Bush's
military non-service -- oh, wait, we did that one to
ourselves -- the Republicans have excelled in
freezing the frame on the moment that makes
Democrats look worst.

But the ground is shifting. The Internet is going to
expose every human moment, every foible, every
"gaffe," providing instant opposition research.
Either we turn every nose pick into a reason to
disqualify or we instead decide that until the
Messiah finally shows up, we're going to just have
to make do electing imperfect humans as leaders.

So, MoveOn.org can decide to make political hay out
of McCain's gaffe, but we all pay a price for it. We
legitimize taking moments out of context and seizing
upon the least sympathetic interpretation. We tell
politicians that they'd better stay on message
24/7 and never stick their arms outside their cage.
We exult in a smarmy self-congratulations as if none
of our moments would make us look bad if posted to
YouTube.

Each of these are exactly contrary to how we need to
act as humans if we are to live together in peace.
Understanding, sympathy, context, nuance, openness,
humility...That's what we progressives should be
modeling. That's how peace begins. Let's declare
unilateral disarmament in this particular arms race.
Let's preemptively forgive one another for the sin
of being human.

The good news is that the pervasiveness of the
Internet may well force us to give up on our Zero
Tolerance for Humans policy. When every human moment
of every politician is exposed, we will have no
choice but to accept that gaffes are the natural
human state. We'll know that the rules have changed
for the better when the most damaging YouTubes are the ones
that catch politicians trying to appear more than
human.