In pleasant company, I avoid talk of presidential politics whenever I can. Everybody has so much emotion riding beneath the surface. I have deep feelings, too, but I know every person has their own way of looking at the world. And I recognize that trying to win someone over to my way of thinking only strains relationships.
We come to our conclusions alone, basing our decisions on our own criteria. The vote cast on the shape of a candidate’s nose counts as much as a thoughtful vote on a foreign policy platform.
And no matter how right you think you are about presidential politics, someone will disagree with righteous fury, proudly declaring your idiocy. That’s the world. And in some ways, we are all capable of playing the fool. It seems we are each so sure of our worldview and will not budge from it. We hear the evidence that supports our established notions, praising its validity. We dismiss conflicting evidence, readily labeling it as biased or politically driven even before we hear it out. Meanwhile, news outlets feed this mental laziness with more and more organizations recognizing that there’s money to be made off giving ideologues from right and left what they want to hear. In doing so, some news outfits abandon the lofty goal of civic-minded journalism for target market cash.
This presidential election is weighted with those same, old cultural divides. When we vote, we assume an identity. We put on a red or blue jersey.
There’s something oddly invigorating about games of us and them.Those clear lines of disdain are old and familiar. They don’t challenge us to actually listen to an individual. We can assess what team a person’s on, then either nod in approval or give him the verbal backhand, drawing cheers from our fellow teammates.
It troubles me, our eagerness to abandon thoughtful dialogue on the issues of our day: the economy, the right way out of Iraq, the threat of nuclear proliferation, appropriate taxing policies, the $10 trillion national debt, the collapse of American manufacturing, the pursuit of al Qaeda, the legal and moral questions regarding state-sanctioned torture, our dependence on foreign oil, the right strategy on global warming, the proper way to handle immigration, the right moral positions on abortion or the death penalty.
These challenging issues demand a commitment to exhaustive thinking and listening, not just barking. But we don’t want such headaches. No, we want it nice and neat. So we lower the bar of debate to grossly superficial levels. We focus on who’s likable. We talk about personalities and body language as if these things hold the key to good governance.
Steve Spurrier doesn’t win games by throwing his visor, but if he were a politician, that’s all television pundits would focus on, that emotional gesture, that image, a superficial thing that really has nothing to do with his command of the complexity of the game.
The federal government is a big ship of bureaucracy. Whether it’s steered toward open waters or an iceberg does not depend on likability or persona or image. It’s the hard policy that counts.
And with so much going wrong these days, I can’t emphasize enough how sickened I am by the politics of demonization that infects our election cycles, that boogeyman element that appeals to base fears and our darkest nature. I’m so ashamed by what I hear. We need thoughtful dialogue on how to maintain a healthy civilization in these troubled times. We don’t need all these digressions on matters that aren’t relevant to American health, that only feed our blinding animosities.
We desperately need to be better than that.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.