Thursday, January 6, 2011

161. Politics heading the wrong way

Since sometime in November, around the time when the "tax deal" was made, I began my political vacation. Not so coincidentally timed with the actual holiday season, I needed to take a break. I haven't written a political column or posted a political tweet or Facebook status. I even walked away from email debates with friends. I had had enough.

The tax deal was certainly part of my despair. It has become increasingly obvious that the wealthy will always get what they want. For some reason, the poor and middle classes and those that are supposed to represent them, always cave into the demands, or the whining, of the wealthy. I don't know if it because they think rich people will suddenly start giving their money away or because they don't want to be heavily taxed when they become a multi-millionaire. Either way, they should understand that both scenarios are unlikely.

At least, through it all, President Obama can no longer be called a socialist, because a socialist would never agree to such a disproportionate distribution of wealth. In fact, the extension of tax breaks for the wealthy was a sad endorsement of our capitalistic system-and its excessive rewards. And, understandably for the representatives that voted for it, now that corporations have a free rein to influence elections, what politician would want dance through a minefield of angry rich folks?

But, it's more than the tax cuts. The political rhetoric has become unbearable. From angry conservative name-calling to liberal pompous mockery, both sides have deviated from constructive communication. It's rarely about principle, it's more often about financial interests and winning elections. The rhetoric ranges from the absurd to offensive. And Americans continue to accept it-as either ignorant or indifferent. Instead of standing up and saying "enough with the crazy talk," people dig in, like a cornered animal-defending their views.

Unfortunately, the tragedy in Arizona could not be ignored, and it has dragged my attention back into the political spectrum. Barely after the dust settled, the left pointed to this as an incident of an angry, brainwashed conservative, and the right formulated an array of some of the most ridiculous political spin that I have ever heard. The debate has taken on an oscillating exchange of blame and denial.

And speaking of blame, I do not blame Sarah Palin, this individual obviously had a lot of mental issues, and it seems that he could have targeted the community college that suspended him just as easily as the political meeting. However, Palin needs to realize that her constant references to guns, and reloading, and shooting animals, and placing crosshairs on a map-while it might be metaphoric, or symbolic, or makes her "cool" with the guys- can influence a troubled individual to act dangerously.

Thus, whether or not this incident was politically motivated, it is clear that American politics are moving in the wrong direction. As voters, we can keep voting in and out representatives, but it is futile if the game doesn't change.

I am as passionate as anyone when it comes to the issues that matter most to me, and I may be guilty of emphatically arguing my position at times-but there is a difference between a well-reasoned distinction in opinion and the intent to deceive. I want people to read my argument (Consider this . . .), and then do their own research, ask their own questions, weigh both sides of the issue against their own values and then, and only then, come to a reasoned perspective. If you agree, great, if not, let's talk about it.

However, politicians and political pundits continue to bet on the idea that Americans will react emotionally- based on where they fall on the political spectrum-and not do their own research. Ignorance and indifference are now part of political playbook. People do what they think are supposed to do and believe what they are supposed to believe. Politicians believe they are not going to be re-elected without venomously attacking those on the other side of the aisle; pundits worry that they will not get the ratings they need without testing the emotional boundaries of their viewers.

Above everything else, it might be this appeal to emotion that is responsible for the events in Arizona. Emotion can easily turn into anger and hate, which, when combined with mental illness, can have tragic consequences. Instead of blaming the other side, politicians and pundits need to look in the mirror and take it down a level or two. I read that FOX finally asked their commentators to tone it down in the aftermath of the tragedy-I hope that's true.

Unfortunately, it might get worse before it gets better. On the political horizon is healthcare, and now maybe gun control. These are two topics that, in the past, have proven to be less than rationally considered.