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Don't Demonize Political Opponents, Infantilize Them

11/19/2011 03:42 pm ET | Updated Jan 19, 2012

Last week in New Orleans, James Carville and Mary Matalin hosted a day-long conference on "Taking the Poison Out of Partisanship", the latest in many attempts to get the partisan voices lowered in what passes for political discourse in this country.

But I wasn't there, I was traveling. And In one of my innumerable trips through airports this year, my thoughts were momentarily distracted from observations about junk-touching and the fading glories of first-class jet travel by the sight of a baby. I'm not a parent, so other peoples' children are not always a source of ineffable joy, but this was one of those baby's faces that could make Attila the Hun say "Awwww".

Walking down the jetway, I mused that one key to the charm of the young in our species, among others, was the role of the eyes. Apparently, we're born with the size of eyes we'll have throughout life; it's the rest of the body that grows around them. So the young have what appear to be outsize eyes with which to gaze lovingly at us, carrying the crucial age-old message: "Don't eat me".

It's a characteristic seized upon, to great profit, by Walter Keane who, in the decades before Thomas Kinkade became the Painter of Light (TM), was America's reigning king of kitsch art. Keane painted children and animals with exaggeratedly outsized eyes, and the work sold like hotcakes; hotcakes filled with corn, but hotcakes, nonetheless.

And, in an entirely different context, this characteristic -- the big eyes typical of the very young -- has been one of our culture's ways of dealing with the Feared Other. You need look no further than "ET - The Extra-Terrestrial" to see an example of how the frightening prospect of the alien from outer space -- depicted as monstrous in a series of movies from the 1950s through the 1980s -- had now been dealt with far more satisfyingly, by being infantilized.

So here we are, in a time of fiercely mean politics, when Right and Left compete to demonize each other ever more ferociously for ratings and donations. Americans are, according to Carville and Matalin (among others), wearying of the noise and the rancor. We're hearing renewed calls for lowered voices. But opponents still need to be diminished, so what to do? Here, in a modest photo gallery, is my suggestion: don't demonize 'em, ET 'em.

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