Last Sunday's Daily Herald contains an interesting lesson in democracy. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but consider the circumstances and see what you come up with.
The dominant story on the front page, featuring a large picture of an animated U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a small head shot of Herman Cain and a prominent teaser to a sidebar on Glenn Beck, describes the key speeches at a rally that stirred the passions of more than 700 tea party faithful. Including the Glenn Beck sidebar, we devoted the bulk of nearly three pages to coverage of the convention, which -- and I mean this as observation, not commentary -- generally repeated three common themes: defeat Obama, don't let politicians spend more money than they have and don't give them any more to spend. This message, in addition, was presented to a welcoming, uncritical audience.
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In an intriguing contrast, at the top of Page 3 in some editions -- and not appearing at all in others where it didn't have a regional connection -- was a story about a political town hall meeting on Saturday sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, a Kenilworth Republican. Dold, like Walsh a freshman congressman, unlike Walsh did not address an adoring throng. He confronted a diverse audience of just 60 people representing a broad range of points of view, including Democrats who had turned out simply to challenge him.
Members of the tea party audience shouted and cheered the speech makers who addressed them. Members of Dold's audience shouted at each other and, one gathers from Melissa Silverberg's report, sometimes had to be asked to settle down.
Is one event more admirably democratic than the other? I wouldn't venture to say. All political movements have rallies. Probably no other politician has had more town hall meetings, or more contentious ones, than Joe Walsh. So, I see no political high ground to stake out here. I just couldn't escape the contrast. In one suburb, a day of passionate rooting for essentially one approach to government. In another only a few miles away, a couple hours of heated argument over a variety of specific concerns.
Democracy, it occurs to me, involves both elements. The raging wildfires of grandiose cheerleading. The contained brush fires of animosity and discontent. These fires juxtaposed, as it happened Sunday, against a simmering three-day Star Trek convention that attracted thousands more than either political event and whose featured attraction was the actor whose character defined the very essence of dispassionate political and social thought.
Somehow, it also seems relevant to point out that we gave over our editorial space that day so Editor John Lampinen could put online commenters on notice that we're declaring an end to rank incivility at our website, that we believe passion and courtesy can reside together in the same space and we intend to insist on it.
And Lampinen's commentary appeared over a Michael Gerson essay extolling the message -- inherent in the best literature on a simple eighth-grade reading list -- of courage, honesty and sympathy that comes when you "walk in the other guy's shoes for a while."
I wish I were smart enough to express -- shoot, even to know -- what singular lesson all these disparate items from one Sunday edition are clamoring to offer. But alas, I'm not.
I am happy, though, to acknowledge that you may be.
• Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.