Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Respectfully Submitted

I recently had a discussion with a colleague that touched on, of all things, politics.  I try to avoid talking about politics with most folks.  It makes me tired. It rarely leads to anything productive, I find, and, in the end, it usually leaves both parties frustrated, at best, and resentful, at worst.

This particular conversation was between two people that, on the surface, probably have similar views on the issues.  Each of us might be identified as liberal in outlook; however, I am probably the less liberal of the two.  And, the topic seemed relatively innocuous, the question being whether I was going to watch the President accept the Democratic nomination that evening.  I said I was not (although, in the end, I did), and I added that I was tiring of the election (which really was only just that evening about to officially get under way).  I lamented (which isn’t the same as complaining), that I was frustrated by the lack of real political discourse, and that I was troubled by the way everyone (candidates, PACs, voters) makes the candidate they are not for seem to be not only wrong on the issues, but something akin to the Antichrist.

It’s disheartening to watch and listen to this happen.  It makes me sad to hear some sheriff in Texas tell people that if the President is re-elected there will be a civil war, or to hear Newt Gingrich call him a “pretender.” On the other hand, I feel like Democrats do the same thing to Romney and Ryan, making them seem evil due to their economic policy ideas and their adherence to cutting social programs.

I am not trying to defend either side. I am not arguing that no one involved in this election is hypocritical or even wrong-headed. Nor am I suggesting that anyone simply give up and not pay attention to the issues and the candidates’ stances on those issues.  The thing I am bothered by is the same thing a lot of people are bothered by, I am sure, and that is the tone of the debate. We seem to have descended into a constant cycle of character assassination, and the real points of debate are completely ignored.

(Then, again, have we descended?  Have things really changed?  Or has it always been this way, but the ubiquitous media, our blogs and Twitters and news channels, have simply put it on display all day everyday?  More likely the latter.)

It just seems to me that everybody involved in this (and, really, in America, that includes everyone over the age of eighteen) is so angry and desperate to be heard that we reach for the easiest hook to hang our hat on.  And instead of discussing the merits of a person's stance, we argue the merits of the person.  A candidate is not hypocritical, but, rather, he is a hypocrite.  It is a subtle, but important difference.  A candidate is not employing extremely liberal solutions to a problem, but, rather, the man is a Socialist. A candidate is not making decisions based on self-serving end results, but, rather, he is an asshole.  It changes the game.

I get it: we want someone that we like; we want someone we can trust. We want someone who seems to think and feel and respond to problems and issues like we do.  And we want that passionately. But, don’t we do ourselves and everyone else a disservice when, in our zeal to get our candidate elected, we almost automatically cast the other side as thoughtless, clueless, senseless, heartless, and fundamentally evil?  Because, you know, what happens when your candidate doesn’t get elected?  You have to live with someone (or several someone’s) whom you find to be the embodiment of Old Scratch.  No wonder we’re so screwed up.

Maybe I am miles off base with this.  My judgment is just as clouded as the next person’s, I am sure.  I do see the issues that concern me, and I do my best to find a candidate that addresses those issues in a way that most closely hews to my own philosophy. However, I, too, can recall more than one instance where the candidate I voted for did not win, and, as a result, I was angry, depressed, and despairing for the future. It is a terrible feeling. Do we have to continue setting up a huge portion of the voting populace for this kind of post-election psychological malady? (Who hasn't heard someone say in the last twelve years, "If So and so is elected, I am moving to Canada/Bolivia/Iceland/Mars"?)

Ultimately, what we probably need to keep in mind is that, regardless of who wins this next presidential election, that man is going to be our leader.  He will be the President of the United States of America. Regardless of how we might feel about that person’s political philosophy, he will deserve some modicum of respect.

And, maybe that is what I feel is lacking, not just in politics, but in our society, today: a general lack of respect for each other.  This could lead me off on a tangent that might stretch for another thousand words, or so, so I will spare you that jeremiad.  After all, just thinking it makes me a little depressed, since it paints me, in my own mind, as some wrinkly old geezer, pants up around my arm pits, grumbling about “kids these days,” and “back in my day.” I’ll spare you the story of walking to school in a snowstorm or eating all my dinner whether I liked it or not.  I respect you all too much to subject you to that.


Katie said...

Tony, you make some excellent points. Don't laugh at me - I'm being 100% serious when I say this: Ever since watching The Newsroom, my view of political rhetoric, especially in the media, has changed drastically. I am tired of watching intelligent people say things that I KNOW they don't believe, simply for the purpose of toeing party lines. I am even more tired of watching "reporters" let candidates and their supporters get away with lying and/or not answering the questions that are asked of them. The country deserves real answers to real questions and those answers should be demanded of them by everyone who asks a question. As you said, it's unclear whether or not it's always been this way, but I wish things were just a little more straight-forward and that political candidates were pushed more for the truth. Great post. :)

Toddly said...

Tony, I'm going to give a big, loud, AMEN to everything you just said. The political discourse is frightening and disheartening. I want all sides to discuss real issues, in real detail, with the facts. The extreme lies and character assassinations must go by the wayside. And respect would be nice too.

Katie, in my opinion Newsroom is the best show on TV right now. Aaron Sorkin is a genius, the writing is phenomenal and the acting matches.