On their surface the words opponent, adversary and enemy may be synonyms. Even if the words might be used interchangeably by some, there is a difference in nuance among the three terms, and those in the public eye, especially those standing for office, must be aware of this when they address crowds or answer questions in a news conference.
There is no one without adversaries in life. When scholarship funds are limited, and funds must be distributed to only a few of many who may apply, those applying may have adversarial relationships. Many may have vied for a professional position or for a role in a club or student government. There are countless athletes who strive for championships against one another. As people contend for the same end they are not mutual enemies.
In none of these examples were those embroiled in a contest enemies. Enemies seek the harm of their adversaries, not only their defeat. In war an enemy is to be fully subjugated so that it no longer poses a threat. The armed services of the enemy may even die in service to their country and its leaders.
Torah teaches us not to hate or bear a grudge. It calls on us to love our fellows as we would love ourselves. The Torah teaches us to defend ourselves against enemies, but even in war situations to sue for peace. Labeling an adversary as an enemy is unethical and dangerous.
Because former Governor Strickland had been a preacher before he first stood for public office, and should have had a good grasp of the Christian Bible, it was especially galling to hear him refer to his opponent, Senator Robert Portman, as an enemy. Strickland and Portman are not enemies. While they may have differing agendas, they are in many ways cut of the same cloth. Both have an abiding sense of American patriotism. Both want to do what they can to improve our country and its impact on citizens’ lives. Both are devoted Ohioans who want to represent our state in the Upper Chamber of the Congress. Both come to the campaign to win, and both feel that they are the most qualified to pull it off. None of these commonalities makes them enemies. They are just both participating in a dog eat dog race with very high stakes. Strickland’s comment, simply, was wrong.
Similarly, at a news conference months ago, Secretary Hillary Clinton was asked who was her greatest enemy. She said “Republicans.” While one might think that right now Bernie Sanders may be her greatest adversary, her labeling of Republicans as enemies is wrong on many grounds. Republicans may share some of her views. Devoted Republicans from the most liberal to the most conservative are involved in the party because of the good they feel the party can do for the United States. Is Clinton purposefully alienating potential supporters? It is not impossible to support a candidate when only some of her views may mesh well with an individual’s, even if from different perspectives. It is far harder to win the support of someone identified as an enemy.
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had a deep dislike for one another. They came from different approaches when each served as president. Yet despite personal animosity, their mutual respect cannot be doubted.
There is far too much political correctness coloring the campaign and the United States in general. A modicum of etiquette and mutual respect would go a long way. Even the simple turn of phrase can impact.
Persons in all corners of the current political fray must take active steps to rein in their tone and remember the higher good for which each candidate is striving. When they do, bi-partisanship may be far more achievable as a new government is chosen next November.