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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

3 Political Paradoxes

I’ve never considered myself a particularly political person, and would consider political activism (e.g., picketing, protesting, rallying, etc.) to have roughly the same time efficacy as watching the Jersey Shore, and yet, I have always been unable to escape the matter. Whether it's folks recommending I run, my family inexplicably turning Tea Party crazy, or just the intermittent traffic on my Facebook news feed - politics follows me like a crazy ex-girlfriend. In general, however, I try to keep up. Even as an official member of the “middle aged” demographic (35-45), I make an effort to stay connected to trends in technology, commerce, art, music, business, etc. And to that end, very little catches me off guard. But I don’t have any idea what’s happened with politics. I feel like I’ve been in a cryogenic chamber for 20 years, woken up, and everything’s gone completely crazy. I don’t recognize politics; I don’t recognize the players, the people or the sides. I don’t know when everyone got so mad, and I certainly don’t remember when the stakes went from haughty disagreement to murderous rage. But as I try to step back and take a good look, there remains some confusion - and so as an alternative to the 24-hour news/commentary cycle, here are 3 political paradoxes - that I just can’t figure out:

1. The Wrong of the Right. Up until a year ago, I was registered for my entire adult life as a Republican. It always just made sense to me. I grew up idolizing Alex P. Keaton, and in a country were Ronald Reagan was a modern day Eisenhower. Capitalism went from helping us lead the world to putting us in a class of our own. It was all about making the money and keeping the money. Government was there in the background - but the world was about business, and politics was there just to keep everyone playing by the rules (for the most part). But somewhere along the way, being a Republican became being a conservative, and being a conservative became being religious. In the span of my adult life, the GOP went from Gordon Gecko to Sarah Palin. We started out as captains of industry bent on self-made success, to trailer park, bible thumping mouth breathers who claim they’re the “real” America. Now, I’m no sociologist, but I’m fairly certain there’s never been a successful society who heralded as champions, its 50th percentile - and I’m sure there’s not a successful political party that’s ever done it. My old party, no longer grand in any sense, has become a tyranny of fools - built on the paranoia of ignorance, and shaking its fist at the storied academic halls that bore its greatest traditions. Capitalism has never been successfully navigated by fools, and never ridden to the highest classes by those whose faith outpaces their work ethic. And yet, these are leaders of the modern day right. The Tea Party is the worst bastardization of a good idea since New Coke. And just like Coke, I’ll forgive them for messing it up, as soon as they start bottling up GOP Classic again.

2. Missing the Middle. It might just be a function of my old age, but lately I feel like pulling kids aside and telling them about the good ol‘ days, when there was a big group of people (read as: the majority of folks) who liked a little bit of each party’s politics - though they may like one a little more than the other. When the balance of power transferred from one to the other (as was destined to take place), they endured a little bit of what they didn’t like for a little of what they did. Each party would insist that the other party had it all wrong - but in the end, they’d come together and reach compromised solutions that had the country’s best interests at heart. Unfortunately, just like the disappearing middle class, the political middle has similarly vanished. Being a moderate is now viewed as traitorous and weak-minded. Being non-committal as a voter is just as unforgivable as if it were the politicians themselves. Modern day political participation requires, as a prerequisite, that you choose a side. And by choosing a side, it means you whole-heartedly commit to one, and abandon as utterly without merit, the other. The problem with this idealogical segregation is that it reduces personal opinion on an impossibly diverse set of issues to a single choice. It’s like choosing a college based solely on the mascot - or a house based on how the doorbell sounds. Take it from someone who got the education of a lifetime at a school with a goat for a mascot - it’s better to take a deep look, at your school, your house and especially your politics. I don’t care if I’m the only one there - I‘m stepping back to the middle, feel free to join me.

3. To The Extreme. I can remember when being hard-core into politics meant more than one bumper sticker, a few signs on your yard, and showing up to a rally or two. These days, it means plotting the actual death of the other side’s leaders, likening its proponents to historically evil ideologies and/or spewing rhetoric so caustic that it makes that one crazy uncle you used to have that served in the Army seem like Miss Manners. Incompetence, ignorance and dishonesty used to be capitol political crimes; now they seem like prerequisites. Hyperbole has become the regular language of political discourse, and U.S. Senators now defend the use of completely contrived pseudo-facts on the Senate floor, as necessary to make their point. In a world of nearly universal and constant media bombardment, it seems that we’re remiss to pay attention to anything that doesn’t threaten us (or the world at large) with imminent harm or descent into anarchy and chaos. As a result, every disagreement roils into a high-stakes, life-and-death conflict of wills, that can only really be decided by the death, dismemberment or severe handicapping of the losing party. All liberals are Communists, all conservatives are fascists. The “slippery slope” argument has become the “sheer cliff” argument - where any inkling turns into blinding allegiance. Any failure to disclose turns into a conspiracy so vast and sinister that the JFK assassination seems like a Sunday picnic by comparison. But how can we be expected to keep our cool when the people we elect and pay to have perspective behave more like members of rival gangs than professionals with differing opinions?

* * *

When it comes to politics, I have always been the tolerant sort. After all, it was a recognizably cyclical process, and if you didn’t like the way things were going all you really needed to do was wait, and pretty soon they’d be headed in a different direction. When this whole Tea Party thing started, Fox News lost its mind, and otherwise normal people became convinced that the President of the United States was literally out to get them - I bit my tongue, retreated for a bit and hoped it would pass. But as time has worn on, this movement has not worn out, and I fear that we’ve finally found a way to punctuate the end of the Information Age - with the Decade of Ignorance. There is not much that I fear more than a tyranny of fools - and in that, the fear-mongering set may finally have found a way to get to me to be scared right along with them. But as I’ve often been told, bravery isn’t about not being scared, it’s about being strong in the face of fear. So for my part in this brave new world, despite my aversion to idiocy, I’m fighting the good political fight with the one weapon that appears to be missing from current political battlefields: reason. Wish me luck.


Jen and Tonic said...

“And yet, these are leaders of the modern day right. The Tea Party is the worst bastardization of a good idea since New Coke. And just like Coke, I’ll forgive them for messing it up, as soon as they start bottling up GOP Classic again.” I love this line so much I wish I had written it.

I totally agree with the idea that people feel they need to pick a side, and REALLY commit to it. The problem with that type of thinking is that you get so focused on winning the argument that you fail to lose sight of what the right thing to do is. Politicians, as well as the people who follow them, have definitely forgotten that.

I’m right there in the middle with you.

Kristina said...

I'm also not very political, and for the most part try to avoid debates or arguments about politics in general. I try to stick with the side that has some of the more fundamental ideas that I identify with, either monetarily or morally. :)

Travis said...

Glenn, excellent point you make in The Wrong of the Right -- "In the span of my adult life, the GOP went from Gordon Gecko to Sarah Palin." When I was in college 20 years ago, the Young Republicans were a driven, intelligent group of future leaders. What happened to them? Did they change? Or did they simply get out of politics, to be replaced by the "50th percentilers" who run the party now?

Eric said...

Sorry brother...what you've got here is your first case of "Aged Inaccurate Nostalgia". There'll be a lot more of that in the coming decades.

There was never a time when hyperbolic half-truth shout-downs were not the norm on the Senate floor. All "Distinguished Public Servant" has ever meant is a long career of crony-ism, self-enrichment, self-importance, oppression, and yeah, okay, a bit of laudable public service...with other people's money.

I don't think that there are any more extremists around than there were at any other time of polarizing issues. What? Don't look at me like that...I'm a moderate...just an extreme one. I think it's just that you're subject to a lot more of their opinion from comments, tweets, status updates and (cough) blogs than you would have been in the past. Back in the day an interested pontificator who didn't work for the Washington Post was limited in how far he could spread his message in that he could only get a few hundred pamphlets cranked out of the mimeograph before the fumes made him need to go find a bag of chips and a lie-down.

Cheer 40 years you'll be sitting at the buffet letting everyone know how great it was back now when pretty much everybody reasonable agreed with your moderate politics, and wasn't spending all their time trying to cut your Cosmetic Rejuvenation Benefit just 'cause they supposedly need the stem cells for childhood leukemia cases. Oh sure..they'll CALL it "National Health Care Resource Allocation" but what they'll really mean is euthanasia.

OZ101 said...

I am very political and still have yet to find a politician that I can relate to. Every time I actually believe in somebody enough to vote for them, they screw it up. And I'm not talking about screwing it up by getting a blow job under the desk in the oval office, I could care less about that. JFK was looked at as one of our greatest presidents and he was cheating on Jackie O left and right! I just want a politician that is honest and doesn't bow out to corporations that are hell bent on putting money in their own pockets instead of the pockets of the America People. Great Three!!

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