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Today's political candidates are expected to personalize themselves by talking about their childhood (extra points if it was humble), their family and the music and books they like. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate and an innocuous morsel of news has informed us that Ryan likes Led Zeppelin and the left-leaning band Rage Against the Machine.
Ryan has good taste but it gets a bit sticky with respect to Rage. The candidate enjoys the band's music even though he disagrees with their politics, however RATM, which has supported liberal causes for years, doesn't return the love. Guitarist Tom Morello has performed at many protests, including those held in opposition to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and at a May concert in support of Occupy Wall Street. In 2008 the band held a concert to protest the Republican National Convention.
Some might wonder why Ryan, a conservative, would enjoy RATM. Frankly, why not? Why would anyone think that agreeing with an artist's political views is a necessary prerequisite to appreciating the art?
As a conservative I could care less that Paul Newman supported liberal causes. He was an actor of astonishing range and "Hud," (in this reviewer's opinion) was the best movie of 1963 and one of the 20 best movies ever made.
There's much talk about tolerance but many champion the concept because mouthing such platitudes is expected, not because they believe it. Too many people across the political spectrum are convinced those who disagree with them are not merely wrong but immoral and perhaps dangerous. RATM can't even tolerate Ryan listening to their CDs. After learning the candidate is a fan, Morello wrote an op-ed for Rolling Stone magazine addressing the situation.
The guitarist said he sees a lot of rage in Ryan but it's a rage against women, the poor and the environment.
"Basically the only thing he's not raging against," Morello asserts, "is the privileged elite he's groveling in front of for campaign contributions."
Who does Morello think Democrats grovel before - the poverty stricken? Don't expect him to compose a tirade expressing disgust over the Democrat's pursuit of big cash.
Imagine if in his commentary Morello had issued this invitation: "I'm glad Congressman Ryan listens to RATM and I hope at some point before November he and I might spend a few minutes together and talk about our nation's future. We probably won't agree on much at the end of the conversation but if he and I can sit together in mutual respect it would make the case that people who are very opposite in their views can listen courteously and speak without rancor."
Instead, Morello's response towards his band's high profile fan further embeds the reality that politics is an angry clash between ideologies and personalities instead of a contest between ideas and purpose.
In a world in which one party believes the other wants to push old people in wheelchairs off a cliff and the other wonders if a certain White House occupant was actually born in America it is hard to visualize good governance post-November. Perhaps peaceful coexistence is the best we can hope for. One thing is certain - political tactics won't change until the people demand it. And so far they're not.
Joseph Bell was communications director for former Congressman Rob Simmons, a Republican who represented the Second District from 2001-07.