Today’s redone post is from 2011, but is still unfortunately quite applicable to the political situation we Americans are still living in. Read on for my assessment of the situation, and how it could potentially get better.
Watching the political situation erupt in America is like watching kindergartners fight on the playground. Well, except for one major difference: there are more public tantrums, controversial angry statements, and name-calling than any 5-year-old could dream up.
Whatever political party you affiliate yourself with, or even if you are no political party (probably due to this very phenomenon), it is embarrassing for all of us. Who wants to be represented by people who can’t get along long enough to talk like grownups, when that’s what they’re being PAID to do?
Is Politics Even About Leadership Anymore?
The upcoming election in November has only heightened the tensions between the two dominant parties. Mitt Romney has already said that the reason he wants to win is to defeat Barack Obama. The words came straight from him: all he wants to do is beat a political rival, not lead the country, not get us out of the economic mess we’ve been mired in since 2006 (at least!).
I think that’s a very telling statement; it reveals how at least one candidate views politics, and as you survey the rest of the political field, the adversarial attitude between conservatives and liberals seems to be a popular view these days. Politics, if you look at federal Congress all the way down to local levels, is no longer about being a public servant, but about being a victor in the public eye. It’s no longer about solving national problems, but about who can tell the best story and garner the most attention so they get elected or reelected.
This is shameful, and it’s not right. Why bother having politicians at all, if this is how they’re going to act? Why bother electing people to lead, if they are going to ignore the duty we chose them for? Politics has turned into a zoo, complete with people throwing verbal excrement at each other, often just as much within their own party as across party lines.
Republicans and Democrats: More like a Dysfunctional Couple than True Enemies
This may sound strange to some, but I view the vitriolic back-and-forth between Republicans/conservatives and Democrats/liberals as the fighting between a dysfunctional, long-married couple.
Picture this: they’ve lived together for so long that the smallest flaws in the other person irritate them to death; they spend their days together angrily hashing and rehashing the same old issues and never getting anywhere on them. And don’t forget, both of them go to bed mad on a regular basis.
Neither person is interested in hearing the other’s point of view anymore. Neither one is interested, really, in resolving the conflict between them. The conflict has become a Conflict, with a capital C, that defines their very lives; it’s gone on for so long that it has become normal and accepted behavior. Any of this sounding familiar yet?
I believe both major American political parties have fallen into this trap with each other. There’s almost no listening going on between the two parties, but there’s a whole lot of negative comments and blanket generalizations about the other party flying around each camp. What was it I saw on Facebook a couple of nights ago from a conservative poster? “Well, all LIBS want ‘respect’ and wave the race card at you when you don’t give it.”
Generalizations -> Stereotypes -> Prejudices
These kinds of generalizations, stereotypes, and prejudices against each other get us absolutely nowhere. Once you start thinking of another person (or another party) in absolutes, like “He always forgets to pick up his **** socks off the floor!” or “They always want big government and big spending!”, then your perception of that person/party becomes one-dimensional. Soon enough, their flaws and your own prejudices are all you see.
I’m guilty of this myself; for years, I thought of conservatives in just the same negative way. I hated their “closed-minded religion” instead of true Jesus-following beliefs; I hated their defiant “God, guns and anti-gay” platform; I hated how they preached of tolerance while being intolerant of others. As a nearly-closeted liberal in an increasingly conservative town, county, region, and state, I felt personally attacked and marginalized by these beliefs. Because this was how I believed all conservatives acted, I feared the ones living near me.
But I’ve come to realize that not all conservatives believe or act this way. I was largely led astray by the sound bites I heard in the media, and it wasn’t until I actually was friends with real-life conservatives that I began to see the varying degrees of political belief within parties, and realize it in myself as well.
Instead of Letting the Aisle in Congress Divide Us, Let it Unite Us
I’m not saying that all the members of Congress should literally marry somebody of the other party (though that would be kinda funny). What I mean is that instead of throwing things across the aisle at each other, maybe we should commit to “walk down the Congress aisle” together, pledging not “till death do us part,” but “till compromise shall we listen.” Maybe conservatives and liberals should try to work things out more like a married couple would instead of like bitter enemies.
America is a diverse nation, full of vastly different opinions and ways of life; of course we’re going to disagree. I may not understand why conservatives believe as they do; they may not understand why I, as a liberal, believe as I do. But at least I should be willing to sit down, listen respectfully, and compromise where necessary. As long as we keep trying to legislate without listening, we are NEVER, EVER, EVER going to get anywhere, just as a married couple who keeps shouting over each other will never solve their argument.
We Need Each Other–We’re ALL Humans!
Conservatives and liberals need each other to survive, to serve as checks and balances for each other. That’s why the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government even exist in the first place: to make sure the government and all its employees are making balanced decisions that take into account all possible outcomes and effects. The duality of the political parties is no accident; each needs the other to keep them from going overboard in either direction.
At least, that was how it was supposed to work. The way Congress is behaving these days, I wonder if any of them listened in civics class. And I thought handling 30 middle-schoolers at a time was rough; I would not want President Obama’s job right now. 30 surly 13-year-olds are not fun to deal with, but I think over 100 stubborn Congressmen and women might be just a wee bit more difficult to handle.
If we can get over the stereotypes and prejudices each party has against the other, we might just be able to solve the huge problems our nation is facing. If not…well, we’ll have to resign ourselves to more years and decades of failures before we learn. All the roses and flowers in the world won’t solve this. It will take heartfelt communication, and then, if we’re lucky, compromise and hope afterwards.
Know how horribly broken our political system is these days? It’s so broken that it took only 30 seconds of trying to watch two party representatives “discuss the issues” on Meet the Press before I turned off the TV in disgust.
The National Symptom of an Underlying Political Illness
On this particular show, the host of Meet the Press had invited a Republican and a Democrat to talk over the issues facing the United States Congress, and they appeared on the show via split-screen. When the host asked a question, I prepared myself to hear first one side of the debate and then the other. That was definitely not what I got.
In the 30 seconds before I turned the TV off, both party members began to talk over each other, as if the other person wasn’t even there. Not only that, but they would only let each other talk only for a few seconds before jumping in with a rebuttal.
It was clear, as I watched both their faces, that they were not at all listening to what the other person had to say, but were each waiting for their next opportunity to strike a verbal blow for “their party.” It absolutely sickened me. All I could hear were two babies wailing at each other about who to blame for this newest crisis–there wasn’t a word said about what these two people, or the parties they represented, planned to DO about fixing it.
The “Blame Game” Needs to STOP
I’d say I speak for most Americans when I say that I am utterly weary of this back-and-forth blame game between our two dominant parties. When people from both sides gather to “discuss the issues,” we’d like to HEAR YOU DISCUSS THE ISSUES. We don’t need to hear an argument over which party is at fault, nor do we need political double-talk that means nothing; we need a mature, compromise-based approach if anything is ever to be solved.
Politicians on BOTH sides, please hear us. As long as y’all keep acting like toddlers in the throes of the Terrible Twos, most of the general public won’t want to bother with you. We want to know what you’re going to do about what’s happening to us. We also want you to work with each other–didn’t your kindergarten teachers ever grade you on “playing well with others?”
Neither party apparently has all the answers, so the best thing to do, it would seem, is to drop the petty squabbling and seek common ground. Let’s at least TRY to get hold of this nation before it completes its swirling journey down the toilet.
Right now, the political climate in America is like trying to live on Venus–unbearable for most humans. In this highly-polarized, overheated atmosphere, we daily suffocate on sound bytes while trying to breathe in the facts and figure out what we believe to be true. The crushing gravity of “us vs. them” echoes through every broadcast and article produced by either side. “Our” side is always obviously right and true. “Their” side is always corrupt and hypocritical.
In light of this, George Washington’s counsel against political parties in his farewell address rings bitterly true. With all this pointless bickering between political parties, we have done a better job dividing ourselves up than any other conquering nation could ever do. The reason most countries aren’t picking an open fight against us these days is because we are like an animal mutilating itself, tearing at its own feathers and skin, trying to scratch out its own eyes. Seems like impossible imagery, I know, but that is what is happening. We lose all respect for our fellow Americans when they tell us they are part of the “other” political party–instead, we stop listening to them and stop seeing them as an actual human being, because they happen to disagree with us politically.
My Personal Experience with Political Divisions
Take my situation, for instance. I’m a registered Democrat, which is about like saying I’m a registered Satanist where I live in the Southeast United States. I am a speck of blue in a sea of red; I cannot share my political opinions as “Democratic” beliefs anywhere I go, because it will immediately start a firestorm. I, instead, have to be careful to keep the word “Democrat” completely out of it, because as soon as most people from my neck of the woods hear that, they just stop listening.
I have been personally called “baby-killer” because of the pro-choice movement associated with “my” party, even though I actually don’t like abortion at all; I have been accused of supporting illegal immigrants over my own fellow citizens, and contributing to the “nanny state.” Yet I am what most people would call a “bleeding-heart liberal,” because I support things like welfare, education, and healthcare. (At least, I think “bleeding-heart” is the proper term. I’m not even sure which derogatory label fits me anymore.)
But We ALL Have Trouble with Divisiveness–Even Me!
My negative experiences, however, do not make me the greatest listener when a conservative point of view is expressed. Some such opinions are expressed with such caustic verbal acid that I can only take so much before my ear canals begin to burn. Other opinions strike me as so horribly wrong that I can’t even begin to comprehend what logic produced them.
Around here, for instance, I’m usually hearing nasty racial epithets about President Obama, or endless whining about either the “socialist” healthcare system, or how much deficit the government has run up in passing stimulus bills. Meanwhile, I sit there and silently fume that George W. Bush ran up just as much deficit ordering the Middle East wars, and that my own father, who’s worked hard all his life, has also benefited greatly from that “socialist” healthcare. My mind is utterly closed to these people while all this is going on–I hear nothing of what they’re saying after a while, and it’s hard to even view them as people of sound mind. Thus, I’m no better than the people I’m trying to listen to, because while I’m trying to be an “objective listener,” the rage is bubbling up the back of my throat, just waiting for a weak moment to burst forth from my lips and say something I can never take back.
Divided = Defeat!
This is exactly the kind of atmosphere I’m talking about, and it can’t go on. “United we stand, divided we fall” isn’t just a pretty platitude–we’re doing a great job of defeating ourselves as long as we continue not listening to each other and not supporting each other. American conservatives and liberals actually need each other, in my opinion. The conservative party is generally a party of doers, our military might, our sword. The liberal party is generally a party of thinkers, our social conscience, our shield. Liberals need conservatives to shake us out of our reverie and remind them of what needs doing rather than what needs thinking about. Conservatives need liberals to restrain their might and remind them of what needs more thought rather than action. (It’s not that there aren’t some thoughtful conservatives and some strong-willed liberals–this dynamic I describe simply seems to be the current general attitude of each party.)
If we tilt too far to either side, or only listen to one side’s arguments, we will be weakened, as we are right now. If we, however, start listening to each other’s ideas and stop name-calling like first-graders, we might actually get something positive accomplished.