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Thursday, October 20, 2011

3 Political Problems

I have been a registered Republican for nearly twenty years, and in that time, I like to think that I have always maintained at least some kind of interest in the political process.  After all, one cannot readily pursue a career in the military, higher education, even higher education and a legal practice without caring about the way the country is run.  But the past three years of politics have been like nothing else I witnessed in the decade and a half that preceded them.  To put it in the simplest terms, everyone seems to have lost their damned mind, and the rhetoric on even the most banal matters approaches a level of acrimony usually reserved for global, armed conflicts.  I have spent a lifetime enjoying vigorous, political debates and now frequently avoid substantive discussions of matters of national importance because the diatribe becomes so instantly caustic and personal so as to obviate any real exchange of ideas and certainly any enjoyment from it.  Of course, as many of you know, I can only hold it in for so long.  And so, in the interests of damning the consequences and going ahead anyways, here are 3 problems I have with the state of American politics:

1. Simple Is As Smart Doesn’t.  Civic administration on any level is a complex and challenging matter.  Even the politics of the smallest Texas hick-town are comprised of intricate webs of economic interdependencies, the interests of constituencies and balancing of equities between deserving matters and limited resources.  At higher levels, these concerns are rendered impossibly more intricate and difficult to understand, let alone influence.  And at the federal level, they require the efforts of thousands of talented, intelligent individuals just to make it run, not to mention improve it.  The bottom line is that we need really smart people to make government run  and we need brilliant people to fix it.  The notion that there are simple solutions to these infinitely complex problems that somehow everyone in Washington D.C. has missed is as dangerous as it is stupid.  Mr. Smith has long since gone to Washington, and he’s learned a thing or two.  Sure there are things that simple “country” logic can solve, like relationships, misbehavin’ kids and even a cheatin’ spouse.  But the things that aren’t on that list include a multi-trillion dollar economy, a massive employment downturn, and an unsustainable interventionist foreign policy.  Turning over the government to someone “simple” and stupid to fix it because the current smart guy is mucking it all up is like taking your car to your buddy who took auto shop in high school to fix, because the certified mechanic can’t seem to get it running.  No, stupid - you take it to a BETTER MECHANIC!

2. Double Coverage.  I remember when CNN was brand new.  The evening and morning news, delivered by hyper-groomed and minimally tolerable anchormen and women was no longer adequate to satiate our news appetite and we were given 24/7 access to the news of the world.  Whether illusory or not, this news always seemed to be reported with no angle, spin, or slant.  It was no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am news - and I liked it.  No waiting, no delay.  The news when I wanted it.  But in the intervening decade cable news has become a cesspool of transparently partisan journalism so bent on delivering a political message as to nearly disregard any commitment to factual reporting.  On the rare occasion where new facts are actually reported, they are followed so immediately by the requisite spin that it is difficult to know where the news stops and the opinion begins.  And that’s exactly how they want it.  The same American appetite for news when we want it has devolved into an appetite for news that says what we want it to say.  A national paradigm of ever-greater consumer convenience has given us some extraordinary advances, but has also given us Crocs, KFC’s Famous Bowls, and children’s backpacks with wheels on them.  So it should come as no surprise that when the news networks start offering up content that doesn’t require any thinking (where they provide an opinion for you), that we slurp it up like so much dinner smoothie.  As for me, I’m reduced to the AP feed online to get some actual news, and some noise-canceling headphones to keep from hearing the shouting on Fox attendant to the volume-makes-right school of thought.

3. The Politics of Hate.  Opposition in politics has always been integral to the American governmental process.  We have been a two-party system for as long as any of us can recall, and we polarize ourselves along broad idealogical lines by way of identity.  The broad platforms of each party seem impossible for any real person to agree with fully, which used to give rise to a majority group we used to call “moderates” who liked a little of each, and usually declared by tallying which side they agreed with most.  But yesterday's “moderate” is today’s “flip-flopper”, “hypocrite” or worse yet, “traitor.”  Belonging to one party is less about loving that party and more about hating the other one.  It is no longer enough to simply think that the other side has got it all wrong, has bad ideas, and doesn’t seem to really understand things.  Now, true party members are required to believe that the other side is literally out to kill them, take everything they’ve got and drive the nation into anarchy, chaos and despair.  The other party isn’t just wrong, they’re un-American - and if you don’t think so, you might be one of them.  The kooks we used to marginalize and simply tolerate as a function of otherwise enjoying our First Amendment freedoms have become mainstream - and woe be unto the person who can look across the aisle and think the other side may actually have some good ideas.  The rhetoric used these day so plainly outpaces the intellectual capacity of those using it, it makes me think the only way to really get a handle on this runaway extremism is to require everyone to spell and/or define all the words they’re using (or else, keep quiet). 

* * *

The likely misattributed Edmund Burke declaration: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” remains true regardless of its origin.  It is the idea that keeps me thinking in an era where ignorance has become a cult and keeps me talking when you’re less likely to find civility in a political discussion than a cute girl at a Star Trek convention.  Because there can be little doubt that if the smartest and most intellectually capable amongst us sit back and do nothing, ignorance will ultimately triumph and then we really will be in trouble.  It is, after all, that still, small voice in our mind that often quiets the roar of nonsense, temptation and intellectual malaise which might otherwise consume us.  Who are we to expect anything differently in the world around us?  So here’s to the still, small and smart voices - and those with the courage to keep using them - in the hopes that in our best times, we will all start to listen. 


Jen and Tonic said...

"It is no longer enough to simply think that the other side has got it all wrong, has bad ideas, and doesn’t seem to really understand things. Now, true party members are required to believe that the other side is literally out to kill them, take everything they’ve got and drive the nation into anarchy, chaos and despair. The other party isn’t just wrong, they’re un-American - and if you don’t think so, you might be one of them."

This perfectly sums up my biggest issue with politics right now. Politicians are so focused on the antiquated idea of loyalty and staunchness that they're not really doing anything of value for the American people anymore.

DSachezRys said...

This is brilliant! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Nick Lee said...

Wow! I love it! I would normally make remark, but you said EVERYTHING I would have. Great piece, Glenn. Thank you for the good read.

askcherlock said...

I was registered as a Republican, then became a Democrat, and still I search for leaders. All that you have written here may be indicative of the impetus for the rise of the Tea Party and the OWS movement. People are disenchanted, but as you aptly stated, the answers are very complex. There are no simple solutions and the acrimony between both Party's, within and without, will be the undoing of this nation if we do not raise our voices. This is not the time for "malaise."

Anonymous said...

This is great, Glenn. Nicely done. Unfortunately, it seems
we've sold our conscience, taste and morals to the corporations
that support our governmental system, to the point where there is
literally nothing left for politicians to do but argue assinine positions
that have little or nothing to do with actual human values. I recently
heard John McCain comment on the death of Khadafi, and instead
of saying anything about the actual blood and guts process of
real democracy taking place in Libya, he used it as a forum to
point out how Obama didn't act decisively enough with the full force
of the American military to end the conflict sooner. Those people are
fighting for something we take so utterly for granted that he seemed
incapable of understanding why in the world it might be a good idea
to let those people have their own victory over their oppressor. Which
only highlights all the more how detached from the reality of democracy
our political leaders have become. It's rather astounding really.

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