July 29th, 2014
The Problem with Politics
Those of you who have known me for more than a few years have undoubtedly been exposed to what my wife likes to call "one of my political rants." She swears that she can tell when I am making a political post to my Facebook page simply by watching how I hit the keys when I am typing. I suppose that is the result of my frustration with what the political process--one that I will be entering in a few months--has become.
No one will dispute the fact that the process has undergone dramatic changes in the past few decades. There was a time when courtesy, dignity and compromise ruled the day, but those days are long gone, having been replaced by hostility, partisan rhetoric and gridlock. Public confidence in our leaders is at an all-time low, and it seems as if the only thing coming out of Washington these days is more of the same regurgitated garbage telling us why everything we are unhappy about is the other guy's fault. To make matters even worse, while our political leaders sit in their offices trying to come up with newer and better ways to attack one another, "we the people" sit back and point the finger of blame back at them. "Corrupt politicians. The only thing they are concerned about is getting re-elected. They're all in somebody's pocket." It's a vicious cycle that some are convinced is unbreakable. While it is certainly more comfortable for us to place the blame for an increasingly dysfunctional system at the feet of someone else, I would like to make a suggestion that, while uncomfortable, I believe is a much more accurate conclusion. I believe we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Politics is, at least in today's world, as much about marketing as it is about anything else. The parties "market" their candidates and their philosophies to the voting public, primarily through TV and talk radio. Rather than presenting issues and information in a neutral, balanced fashion, we get Fox News and MSNBC. Instead of presenting us with all of the facts, pro and con, and allowing us to make an informed and reasonably intelligent decision, we get Rush Limbaugh vs. Chris Matthews. The result: instead of a reasoned debate about contraception in health care, we hear that a woman who thinks birth control should be covered by insurance is promiscuous. Instead of an objective discussion about whether the country can afford to further expand entitlement programs, we hear that conservatives are rich, heartless elitists who don't care about children living in poverty. And the saddest part is, we eat it up.
If we of the voting public are so disgusted with the lack of civility in our political process, why do we give a moment of our time to those who simply perpetuate the problem? Politicians see millions of voters tuned in to Rush Limbaugh every day, and the inescapable conclusion they reach is that he gives the voters what they want. The end result? The candidates spew out the same type of trash. The bottom line is that if it didn't work, they wouldn't waste their time doing it. Politicians will give us exactly what we have shown them we want. Nothing about our system will change until we do something to show our political candidates that uncivil, hateful bombast will result in our votes being cast for the other side. Until then, we are condemned to suffer through more of the same. From the standpoint of the candidates, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Another way we contribute to the ongoing political dysfunction is by failing to educate ourselves on the issues presented. I recently read a very depressing study that was published as part of a report put together by a bipartisan commission titled "Governing in a Polarized America: A Bipartisan Blueprint to Strengthen Our Democracy." The study, commissioned by USA Today, sought the opinion of those polled on a certain proposal to improve public education. When those polled were told the proposal was made by Democrats, 75 percent of Democrats agreed with it, while only 13 percent of Republicans agreed. However, when the identical proposal was later advanced as a Republican plan, only 12 percent of Democrats supported it, while Republican support ballooned to 70 percent. Nothing in the proposal had changed; only the party with whom it was associated was different.
Consider those results for a moment. When I first read about that study, I was as frustrated as I have been for a long, long time. Have we, as a people, completely lost the capacity for independent thought? Are we such sheep that we will blindly follow wherever our party leadership takes us, regardless of the facts? Have we become so apathetic, so downright lazy that we refuse to educate ourselves about issues that can affect our lives every single day? Sadly, it would appear to be so.
The people of our great nation are nearly unanimous in our frustration with what our political system has become. However, it seems to me that the key to changing the system is entirely within our control. Up to this point, politicians have continued to give us more of what has worked in the past. Until we demand change by refusing to reward the conduct we abhor; until we take the time to educate ourselves so that we can make up our own minds about the candidates and policies we will support, nothing will change. Remember Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." It's time we do something differently.